Earlier this year, Gurdaspur farmers paid the maximum fine to the Punjab government for burning straw during wheat season. However, the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) has fined only two farmers in Gurdaspur and Pathankot districts during the ongoing paddy harvest season, which coincided with the Gurdaspur by-election campaign.
Farmer unions have been protesting against the measures ordered by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to check the stubble burning across the state. As of October 7, a total of 479 suspected cases of paddy straw burning had been recorded in Punjab by PPCB. According to PPCB chief engineer Gulshan Rai, 245 of these 479 cases had been reported in Amritsar and 95 in Tarn Taran district.
Neighbouring Gurdaspur, however, reported only six such suspected cases and no such cases have been reported in Pathankot so far. Out of these six, only two cases were found fit for imposing fine.
Asked if such this was linked to the Gurdaspur bypoll campaign, PPCB Gurdaspur XEN Kuljit Singh said, “We were very strict during the wheat season. PPCB had collected a total of Rs 14 lakh fine across Punjab for burning straw during wheat season. We in Gurdaspur and Pathankot fined highest amount around Rs 4.25 lakh to farmers in both districts. Now we have been seeing the results of hard work done in the previous season.”
As compared to six cases of straw burning reported in first seven days of paddy harvesting in Gurdaspur, a total of 1,105 cases of straw burning were reported during the one-and-a-half month long wheat harvesting season earlier this year in Gurdaspur. Similarly, 160 cases of straw burning were found in Pathankot during the same wheat harvesting season.
There are always more fires during the paddy harvesting season owing to certain technical reasons. But the number of suspected cases still remained low in Gurdaspur during the first week of paddy harvesting season. Kuljit said, “There was some problem with satellite and it was not giving correct coordinates. It is the reason that we found four such cases of straw burning, which were detected by satellite, but our officials found no fire when they reached those coordinates in filed,” said Kuljit.
Suspected cases are confirmed only after proper investigation. It is interesting that no suspected case of paddy burning was reported from Pathankot during this season. Rattan Singh Randhawa, president, border Kisan Sangarsh Committee, said, “Forget about Gurdaspur. Even in Amritsar and Tarn Taran, you will find that most of the farmers get fined for burning starw are thoes who would have relations with Shiromani Akali Dal, Aam Aadmi Party or any other opposition party. Or there will be farmers who have no political connections. Those who have good relations with Congress party will not be fined.”
He added, “There has been free hand to farmers in Gurdaspur and Pathankot till voting day. They will be fined on the pattern of Amritsar and Tarn Taran after the election is over.”