Farmers have no alternative but to burn paddy stubble.
The pollution control board puts advisories in newspaper advertisement columns and invites farmers to the five biomass plants in the state where they can sell the stubble but it doesn't help. Five plants aren't enough.
No wise farmer would transport stubble to a far-off place for just Rs 1,400, the maximum price of stubble at the biomass plants (advertised figure). In the harvest season, when labour is in short supply already, who would like to spend a lot extra on transport, gathering, and loading.
"We buy only the paddy stubble that is transported to our facility," said a call attendant at one of the biomass plants, in Muktsar district. "The price is between Rs 80 and Rs 100 a quintal. We buy enough stubble but we do not go to fields."
Calculating their rising input cost, farmers in almost all fields continue to burn stubble in the absence of any practical alternative. This year, most farmers deployed tractor-driven paddy reapers to shave off the stubble so that it burns easily and entirely. Earlier, they would not chop it before burning, and when it wouldn't burn completely, it left problems on the ground during the sowing of wheat. The trend of burning down the stubble completely has hit the environment more seriously.
Unhappy with Happy seeder
Happy seeder, machine that can sow wheat without burning any paddy stubble, has failed to become popular among farmers. "Happy seeder is a good idea," said Gura Singh, secretary of the Devi Wala co-operative society. "The farmers need to change their mindset. We have given away some Happy seeders and farmers are using this technique."
Farmers have no alternative except burning the stubble because it can't be ploughed into the soil. "The most they can do is avoid chopping and burning it all," said Jaswinder Singh, a farmer from Bir Sikhan Wala village. "It can be burnt partially. Small land holdings do not allow most farmers to use high-powered tractors and advanced technology."
"Farmers can sow wheat with the help of zero-till drill, Happy seeder, rotavator or roto drill without burning the paddy stubble," said Kaur Singh Dhillon, chief agriculture officer of Faridkot. "The government makes this equipment available on subsidised price but small land holdings is a problem, as all farmers cannot buy expensive machinery."
The equipment is expensive indeed and needs big tractors to drag. "Every six months, farmers in the entire state burn paddy stubble, damaging the quality and structure of soil, destroying nutrients and harming the environment," said Gurmeet Singh, a farmer from Kotkapura.