The Punjab government has failed to convince farmers, at least in and around Jalandhar, to sell their paddy stubble.
Aiming at generating electricity with the residue, the government had launched "Earn. Don't Burn" campaign, requesting farmers to abstain from burning it and earn Rs. 1,200- Rs. 1,500 per acre. But to its disappointment, the Hoshiarpur-based biomass plant had received only 1,000-MT stubble till October 30.
The district has around 1.61 lakh hectares under paddy, but there are only two rakes and balers, that too with private persons, to handle the 10-12 inch stalks remaining after the combines finish harvesting.
Rakes and balers are two primary machines used to collect stubble before it is supplied to biomass plant, which accepts paddy only in compressed form, and cost around Rs. 12-13 lakh.
Farmers usually prefer burning stubble to collecting it with such expensive machines. Instead of burning, they have an option of decomposing it, but for that the local agriculture department has only 30 happy seeders.
This year, the department even invited applications from farmers for rakes and balers on subsidy, but it is yet to receive applications at its local headquarters.
On visiting nearby areas such as Nakodar, Shahkot and Phagwara, a team of Hindustan Times found that farmers had no easier option than burning paddy to prepare fields for the next crop.
They said as rakes and balers were out of their reach, the government should provide them for free. "We need empty fields immediately after harvesting paddy to prepare for the next crop. For that, burning the stubble is the easiest method," a farmer claimed.
Agriculture officials said in the absence of strict laws, they were finding it difficult to curb stubble burning.
"The state government should also provide rakes, balers, happy seeders and rotavators to farmers for free through cooperative societies," an official said.
At present, there is no law to check the practice and usually deputy commissioners (DCs) order a ban on it under Section 144 of the CrPC. On its effectiveness, Mukhwinder Singh, superintendent of police (H) in Jalandhar rural police, said that on DC orders, only four cases had been registered by the rural police in the past two years.
Chief agriculture officer Swatantra Kumar Aeri said the government had invited applications from farmers who were interested in buying these machines on their own. "We have already written to the state farmers' commission, asking them to provide more rakes and balers to the department," he said.
He said the department had organised many seminars and training camps to sensitise farmers on the issue but stringent rules were needed to tackle the menace.
Effects of stubble burning
Kills organisms which help improve fertility of soil
Emits poisonous gases that pollute environment
Causes asthma, irritation, respiratory problems, cough, cold, irritation in eyes besides other allergies
With regard to a ban on stubble burning, only four cases have been registered in violation of deputy commissioners' orders so far. The cases are still pending in courts.
Tools to handle it
RAKE: A farming equipment used to scrap the stubble together.
BALER: A baler is a piece of farm machinery used to compress a cut and raked crop into compact bales that are easy to handle, transport, and store.