Stubble burning in Punjab increased by 46 per cent this year in comparison to last year, according to data released by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
In a report on ‘Active Fire Events (AFE)’, the Ministry found that there were 76,537 incidents of stubble burning in Punjab between September 21 and November 22 as against 52,225 such events during the same period in 2019.
During the same period, AFEs in Haryana went down from 6,551 last year to 4,675 this year (a drop of 28.6 per cent), according to the report.
On possible reasons for the rise in stubble burning cases in Punjab this year, agriculture expert and former Punjab Director, Agriculture, Sutantar Kumar Aeri, said harvesting started early with the early onset of winter.
“In 2019, we had rains in September. That was missing this year, making conditions ideal for early harvesting and sowing. So farmers didn’t wait for the stubble management machinery to reach them, and went ahead with wheat sowing immediately after harvesting paddy and setting the stubble on fire,” he said.
Another factor, said Aeri, could have been the protests against the Centre’s farm laws. “In some districts where farmer unions are strong, they instigated farmers to set stubble on fire as mark of protest against the Centre’s laws. Even those farmers who had earlier been managing stubble in eco-friendly ways burnt their stubble this year,” he told The Indian Express.
Experts say that the rise in fires is surprising considering Punjab had less stubble to manage this year — production of stubble has gone down by 15% this year — and enough resources (74,000 stubble management machines this time) in hand.
According to the ministry, districts such as Sangrur, Bathinda and Firozpur in Punjab have the highest AFE (active fire events) counts, with their AFEs rising by 45.7%, 35% and 40.5% respectively over 2019.
The report said that this year, all districts of Punjab, except SBS Nagar, have shown an upward trend in their AFEs.
The Centre has blamed the increase in stubble burning in Punjab on “the lack of ground-level implementation of Centre-supported schemes”.
This year, there were 26 days in Punjab during which stubble burning contributed to more than 10 per cent of PM 2.5 levels while there were 21 such days in 2019.
Professor S N Tripathi of IIT-Kanpur, an expert member in the National Clean Air Programme, said he was surprised to find incidents of stubble burning in Punjab in August-September. “This was quite surprising as peak stubble burning takes place from the third week of October till November first week. But this year in Punjab, there were active fire events even by the end of August and early September. Also, the numbers were higher than last year by 100 per cent. The number of incidents also increased marginally in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, but those weren’t significant and wouldn’t have had an impact. In Haryana, active fire events have decreased. Of course, we don’t know why this increase (in Punjab) has taken place but it is definitely alarming and needs to be looked into,’’ said Tripathi.
Prof Tripathi added, “What has to be looked at is if the Central schemes rolled out in 2017-18 are being implemented by the state governments, and if not, then why.”
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