It is drizzling Wednesday morning and Nirmal Singh, in his 50s, has just returned home after meeting the farmer union leader of his village. Nirmal was booked Tuesday for stubble burning in about one acre of land in his village. Though the offence is bailable, he is worried about being embroiled in a police case.
Sipping tea, he says, “Yesterday, the weather cleared after so many days. Not only me, but the whole village burnt the stubble. However, I am surprised only I was booked. I own six acres of land and also take land on contract for farming. In total, I do farming on about 40 acres. I burnt only a part of my field under paddy after harvesting it, that too after taking consent from neighbours, since wheat sowing has already been delayed because of smog.”
Nirmal feels farmers are being blamed wrongly. “We don’t feel like switching on the television as all news is blaming us. It seems we need to think of some other methods next year. Why all this criticism on us when industrial pollution is equally causing smog,” he says.
Naib Singh, a farmer in his 40s, looks terrified when The Indian Express asks him about his police case. He first refuses to meet the team. After some persuasion, he opens up. “Only one FIR has been filed in this area for burning stubble, which is against me. I burnt stubble on half-an-acre of land. But so did others. I know burning stubble causes air pollution. But we are asking for seed varieties which get ready in 60 days, so that we get ample time for managing stubble.”
Village sarpanch Jagdish Singh Randhawa says, “Farmers are being defamed. Thick smog has already delayed wheat sowing, which will affect yield as well. Next year, the government must act strict on us (farmers) but also provide subsidy per acre to manage the stubble. Mere punishment will not work.”
Bharpur Singh alais Bhura is unaware he has been booked for stubble burning when the The Indian Express visits him. “I have only 2 acres of land. I burnt stubble on half-an-acre. The police team came and just asked my name and went away. I will visit the village sarpanch to discuss with him about this case.”
Bhura says though farmers had been burning paddy stubble for decades, he is feeling guilty this time. “However, I do not have options. Government should help us out. Other means of pollution should also be checked.”
Two other farmers booked for stubble burning are Bhola Singh in Dhanaula and Major Singh on Sekha road in Barnala. Major Singh, in his 60s, does contract farming. “Who wants to hear all the time that we are the ones who caused air pollution? It is high time government provides us some solution. I am feeling embarrassed after watching television news about poor air quality,” says Singh, who too was unaware of the FIR against him.
Rajesh Chhiber, DSP at Barnala, said the farmers booked for stubble burning were yet to be arrested.
Asked why FIRs were lodged against farmers when CM Captain Amarinder Singh had said this won’t be done, SDM Barnala Sandeep Kumar said, “Yesterday, whole Barnala was chocking. We got many calls from residents. So we had to act. We lodged FIRs only in those cases where fields on fire were near houses and there was a risk of damage to the public property as well. “