Punjab stubble burning: ‘Adopted’ village’s wait for machinery, aid gets longer

Farmers alleged that nothing except “motivational meetings” had been done till date.  Soon, thick clouds of black smoke were visible at a distance: Another paddy field was on fire in neighboring Sahauli, four times bigger than their village.

Written by Divya Goyal | Nabha | Updated: November 13, 2017 12:54:02 pm
stubbble burning, paddy burning, punjab farmers Stubble being burned in Sahauli, which is bigger than Kalar Majri and has at least 2,000 acres under paddy. (Express Photo: Gurmeet Singh)

‘Adopted’ as per the claims of the Punjab government in the court of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), Kalar Majri village in Nabha of Patiala is still waiting for any concrete step from the government to control the menace of paddy  stubble-burning. While farmers in this small village with just 400 acres of land under paddy is yet to get machinery or financial assistance promised by the government, their counterparts in neighbouring Sahauli with at least 2,000 acres under paddy are a worried lot and have started setting their fields on fire.

When The Indian Express team visited Kalar Majri recently, there was no sign of any machinery provided by the government but farmers had started harvesting paddy even as the wait for a baler to compile stubble
continued.  Vegetable farmers were particularly agitated as sowing season for potato, peas and beans had begun but they cannot proceed until stubble was picked up from their fields.

Farmers alleged that nothing except “motivational meetings” had been done till date.  Soon, thick clouds of black smoke were visible at a distance: Another paddy field was on fire in neighboring Sahauli, four times bigger than their village.

Bhinder Singh, 68, from Kalar Majri says, “Why has such a small village like ours been adopted? It is hardly going to make any difference.” Gurbaksh Singh, sarpanch of Kalar Majri from SC/ST category with just two acres of farmland, said, “I am a small farmer… cannot afford to buy stubble management machinery.”

The adopted village has just 70 farming households (at least 50 per cent belong to the SC/ST category). Farmers said even the ‘adopted village’ tag won’t stop them from burning stubble if help fails to arrive in time. “What should we do with the word adopted attached to our village? Who will buy our potatoes and peas if sowing is delayed? The administration has held two-three meetings with us but machinery is yet to reach,” said Sukhdev Singh, who has harvested half of his ten-acre field.

The farmers admit that in the previous season, nearly half the village had burned stubble. “A private firm had provided balers for free to some farmers but most of us had set fields afire. This year, even the companies providing balers are demanding Rs 1,000 per acre as demand has increased with the government imposing a ban. We can’t afford it,” says the sarpanch.

The sarpanch added that although his village unanimously passed a resolution upon the insistence of the government, saying that none from their village would put the fields on fire, he won’t be able to ‘force’ anyone. “We are not rich farmers. I won’t be able to stop them if the government fails to help us,” he says.

Bir Dalwinder, 39, one of the few ‘rich’ farmers and the only one who owns a Happy Seeder machine in the village, said, “Last year, I had sown 12 acres with it. This year I will cover the entire 36 acres. I can also afford balers on rent but not all farmers in my village can. So I will not  blame them.”

But the ones like Netar Singh who have tried to take an initiative despite not being financially sound are upset. “I spent Rs 5,000 on hiring a rotavator for harvesting just two acres. Where is the financial assistance?” he asks. Paying Rs 600 an hour for the rotavator that mixes stubble in soil, he says he cannot afford it for the remaining six acres.

Meanwhile, in Sahauli, the farmers are agitated and welcome ‘outsider’ vehicles with sticks and abuses. Any ‘outsider’ who tries to go near the burning fields is stopped and questioned. The farmers here are also upset that their neighboring village, which is way smaller than theirs, has been ‘adopted’.

As The Indian Express team reached Sahauli, some farmers gheraoed the ‘outsider’ vehicle. “Yes, we are setting fields on fire. We are ready to go to jail. At least, this way we will have money left to feed our families. Click and publish, we are afraid of no one,” said some while others requested that photos of their burning fields should not be clicked.
“Adopt us also and we will not burn the fields. Saanu shounk nahi hai agg laan da (It is not our hobby to set fields on fire),” said Gulzara Singh.

CM Captain Amarinder Singh recently said there was no question of any ‘confrontation’ with the farmers. However, farmers from his home district, Patiala, said ‘confrontation’ had begun. “I spent Rs 7,000 and burnt 28 litres of diesel to flatten 2.5 acres of land. It is still not in a condition to sow potatoes despite three rounds of rotavator,” said Gurwinder from Sahauli.

Harchand Singh, another farmer, said he paid Rs 400/acre to a company to provide balers for his farm but no machine has arrived till date.  Manmohan Kalia, joint director and nodal officer for paddy straw management, claimed, “Some farmers are trying to challenge and blackmail the government. A baler and a Happy Seeder will reach the adopted village soon,” he said. A baler reached Kalar Majri on Sunday, said the sarpanch.

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