Despite spending nearly Rs 470 crore on subsidies as part of crop residue management schemes and awareness drives, the Punjab government continues to struggle to control stubble burning as 529 farm fires were recorded on Tuesday — the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak — taking the total number to 48,683.
Last year, 49,905 farm fires were recorded by the Punjab Remote Sensing Centre. Stubble burning is likely to conclude within a week as a large part of the paddy crop has already been harvested.
Punjab Agriculture Secretary Kahan Singh Pannu said, “In 2018, we had disbursed subsidy worth Rs 250 crore on crop residue management machines. This year, nearly Rs 200 crore will be disbursed. We have spent Rs 20 crore on awareness drives — Rs 10 crore each in 2018 and 2019.” This excludes awareness drives being conducted by other independent agencies including NGOs.
Speaking to The Indian Express, he added, “Though farm fire incidents are reducing in numbers, but they have crossed 48,000. We will sit together and try to plug the weak points so that the cases are reduced drastically by next season.”
Records show nearly 28,000 crop residue management machines like Happy Seeder, Super-Straw Management System (S-SMS), chopper, mulcher, cutter-cum-slasher and hydraulically reversible mould board plough were delivered last year, and another 18,000 were delivered this year. The subsidy is 50 per cent on machines purchased by farmers individually, and 80 per cent if purchased by societies.
“Many farmers had purchased these machines before the subsidy scheme was launched in 2018. Hence there should not be less than 50,000 such machines with farmers. Despite that, farm fire incidents are not stopping. It is something to think about,” said an official.
A few days ago, the Supreme Court had asked the Punjab government to pay Rs 100 per quintal to farmers as an incentive for desisting from burning stubble. However, farm fires have not stopped, said officials.
Amrik Singh, Bharti Kisan Union’s (Ugrahan) Sangrur president, said, “We detain officials if they come to book us. We gheraoed the chief agriculture officer, patwari in various villages on Sunday and Monday. They were allowed to go once they agreed not to book us or cancel our FIRs. We are not bothered about Rs 100 per quintal bonus, it is not of any use. We demanded Rs 200 per quintal bonus.”
Farmers had also been alleging that subsidised machines were costlier than those available in the market. They also claimed that in Mansa, the machines were delivered very late. Asked about the same, Pannu said, “A farmer gets his machine booked and once he pays his share, the machine is delivered to him and later subsidy is released to him after he shows the purchased machine to our officer. Farmer himself should pay his share and bring the machine at the earliest possible time.”
A single bench of Justice R N Raina had in September this year restrained the governments in Punjab and Haryana from imposing fine on farmers for stubble burning. It had also said that in case any incident occurs, during the paddy harvesting season, the same will be a cognizable offence and challans may be filed against the violators. Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh had said that farmers cannot manage stubble without the Centre’s help.
In October, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had directed both state governments to take all possible steps, including use of force, to stop burning of paddy stubble by farmers in the two states.
Authorities are now lodging FIRs against farmers and also impose environmental compensation (fines). However, how they will be recovering the fines is not known. Farmers have not paid fines since 2016. In 2016, only Rs 14 lakh in fines had been paid out of the total Rs 73 lakh imposed.