Nearly 500 farmers have been penalised across the state since Tuesday for burning paddy stubble. The crackdown came after chief secretary Sarvesh Kaushal pulled up the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) officials and deputy commissioners on the issue. Most of the penalised farmers have small landholdings, it is learnt.
The knee-jerk reaction of the government has come after it got the flak from the National Green Tribunal (NGT) that is hearing a case of stubble burning and its cascading effect in Delhi. The next date of hearing is on October 28.
The crackdown has left the farmers fuming and they staged protests in Mansa, Ludhiana, Patiala and Gurdaspur. Farmers also blocked road traffic at Samrala and Mansa.
Kaushal had directed the DCs and PPCB to check stubble burning and challan those indulging in the practice.
As per the PPCB data, around 270 farmers were challaned on Tuesday and another 220 on Wednesday. As per the NGT, for burning paddy residue a farmer can be fined, which has been named as ‘environment compensation’. Farmers having less than 2.5 acres of land have been asked to pay Rs 2,500, those having land between 2.5 and 5 acres will pay Rs 5,000. The fine is Rs 15,000 for farmers having more than 5 acres. If a farmer fails to pay the compensation, he is booked under Section 188 of the IPC (for disobeying a government servant’s order).
“It’s a piquant situation for us. Top bureaucracy wants us to act tough, politicians press us to spare farmers and peasants are protesting against us. But, we have to act as desired by our bosses,” a deputy commissioner said on the condition of anonymity.
At Mansa, a farmer threatened to commit suicide when he was being challaned, said a PPCB official. As per information gathered by the PPCB, 490 challans worth Rs 25 lakh were issued, of which Rs 5 lakh were recovered. However, most of the farmers have refused to pay up and they are instead approaching unions for support and launching protests.
“Government is deliberately targeting small farmers. About 90% of those penalised are marginal peasants. We won’t tolerate this and have started protests across Punjab. Details of a bigger protest will be announced on Thursday. The government should first provide us viable alternative for stubble management. Small farmers can’t spend Rs 2.5 lakh on machines to get rid of the stubble,” said Darshan Pal, spokesman of Bharti Kisan Union (Dakunda).
Consortium of Indian Farmer Association (CIFA) president Satnam Singh Behru said farmers held protests at many places. “We won’t pay a single penny. A farmer earns only Rs 5,000 per acre as profit and government wants to bring that down further. First provide us alternative and then talk,” he said.
Despite many attempts, PPCB chairman Manpreet Singh Chhatwal remained incommunicado.