Despite a ban on burning of paddy straw, the practice continues unabated in Ludhiana district. Yet, not a single farmer has been booked for causing air pollution.
As per a notification by the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB), burning of paddy straw is banned in the state, and the violators would be booked under Section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.
However, a visit to different fields across the district over the past week revealed several harvested fields set on fire, leading to dense smoke, resulting in low visibility on roads adjacent to these fields.
Fields were seen burning at regular intervals along the GT road and other main roads connecting Ludhiana, Jagraon, Payal, Khanna and other small towns.
But while farmers continue to violate the ban on burning straw, the Khanna and Jagraon police that cover the entire rural areas in Ludhiana district, have not booked even a single farmer.
Sources said though burning of straw was common, no case was registered against farmers since the government did not want to face their ire .
"How can the government dare to register a case against the farmers when it has failed to provide an alternative to the farmers to burn straw," said Darshan Singh Koohli, district president of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) Ugrahan.
Government's appeal to sell straw
for biomass fails to attract farmers
The state government this year through various advertisements and kisan melas of the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) had appealed to farmers to sell the straw for biomass plants situated in different areas that make power from paddy straw. The farmers were supposed to get Rs. 1,500 per acre for the sale of straw and the representatives of these biomass plants were supposed to visit farmers to exhort them to sell straw. However, farmers say they never got any call from the plants to sell their crop.
"Not even a single farmer got a call from any plant. Rather, the farmers are not ready to sell the straw on this rate since it costs around Rs. 1,000 in form of labour to collect the straw from one acre," Koohli added.
Gravity of the problem very serious
Stubble burning is not only injurious to human health due to environmental hazards, but the process is also harmful for farmers as several friendly pests that save crops from harmful pests, are burnt in the process.
The yield of paddy straw in combine-harvested paddy field is about 10 to 12.5 tonnes per hectare for high-yielding varieties. The yield of standing stubble and loose straw is about 40 and 60% respectively.
This huge amount of straw is wasted annually either by burning in the fields or due to poor utilisation, which otherwise could contribute to the income of farmers.
Also, the heat from burning straw can penetrate into the soil up to 1 cm in depth, increasing the temperature as high as 42.2°C; hence, decreasing the bacterial and fungal populations substantially in top 2.5 cm of the soil. One tonne of straw on burning destroys approximately 400kg organic carbon, 5.5 kg nitrogen, 2.3 kg phosphorous, 25 kg potassium and 1.2 kg sulphur, reducing the fertility of soil
PAU extension education director Mukhtiar Singh Gill said moving farmers from burning of straw to other alternatives would take time as the problem was deep rooted and needed to be addressed on various levels.
"Farmers are resorting to burning since they think it's the easiest way to dispose of the straw. As the farmers in the state are also facing problems due to increase in input costs, one cannot suddenly expect farmers to spend on collection of straw as well. Especially, when they are following the practice of burning since ages," he said.
Though PAU is sensitising farmers over the issue, Gill said thrust needed to be on suggesting best alternatives to farmers and alluring them with reaping money by selling straw.