Combine harvester makers plan to petition the National Green Tribunal (NGT) against the Punjab government’s move forcing installation of straw management systems (SMS) on their machines, even as the new Congress-led dispensation has made this compulsory only for new sales after May 31.
Transport authorities in Punjab had, from January 4, banned registration of new combines not fitted with SMS devices, which cut the left-over straw from paddy harvesting into small pieces and spread it uniformly in the field. Such straw can be ploughed back — or even left as it is for sowing of wheat using a zero-till ‘Happy Seeder’ — rather than being burnt, a practice that has drawn the NGT’s ire in view of causing environmental pollution. The directive to harvester combine manufacturers to install SMS was based on the Punjab Agricultural University’s (PAU) recommendation.
“The issue here is of pollution due to stubble burning by farmers. Our appeal with the NGT will be why, instead of spreading awareness among farmers, we are being made to install attachments that add to our product cost. Moreover, there are already machines such as balers, choppers and mulchers that compress the straw or incorporate it into the field, obviating the need for burning”, said Amar Singh, owner of the Malerkotla (Sangrur)-based Dasmesh Combines Private Ltd and general secretary of the All India Combine Manufacturers Association.
According to Gurtej Singh of Chaany Agro Industries, Bathinda, a normal combine costs around Rs 18 lakh. With SMS, it would go up by another one lakh. “Besides, the machine’s efficiency will come down, even as the higher load factor increases diesel consumption. The operator would, then, take an hour to cover one hectare, as against half an hour previously. They will also end up charging farmers Rs 1,700-1,800 per acre, compared to Rs 1,000 now,” he claimed.
Sales of combines came to a halt after the January 4 decision banning registration of new machines without SMS devices. Since there were no registrations — without which the combines cannot be moved on roads — banks, too, stopped extending finance. “We (Punjab combine manufacturers) sell about 1,600 combines during any season prior to harvesting. This time, our sales took a hit from demonetisation in November-December and because of the SMS requirement after January. The relief granted up to May 31 (a decision taken on April 11) will not help much, as wheat harvesting has already started. The operators purchasing now can use the machines only in the next paddy harvesting season from October,” Amar Singh pointed out.
The January 4 ban was itself a result of the Punjab Pollution Control Board being asked by the NGT about steps taken to control post-harvest burning of paddy straw. The board sought the views of the state agriculture department, which, in turn, suggested installation of SMS devices on combines as per the PAU’s advice.