FARM FIRES: NGT rejects Punjab’s plea to direct Centre to pay incentive to farmers
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has rejected the Punjab government’s plea to issue directions to the Centre to give an incentive of ₹100 per quintal to paddy growers of the state for not burning straw, saying it could pay them on its own if it wanted to.
The tribunal in its order on Tuesday pointed that it was an unhappy situation because in the last five years the state government failed to share with farmers the techniques of sowing wheat without burning residue of paddy.
“If an incentive is to be given it is for the state to decide and provide the same,” the bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel observed.
Also, taking cognisance of the worsening air quality that is causing fatal diseases to people in the Delhi-NCR, the tribunal asked three paddy-growing states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to depute a person each to report daily on air pollution due to stubble burning.
Saying that crop burning shoots up carbon dioxide levels in the air by 70%, the tribunal asked the three states to sensitise farmers on pollution caused by burning of crop residue.
Punjab secretary (agriculture) KS Pannu, who represented the state government in a hearing on Tuesday, said the three states are demanding incentives for farmers for not burning stubble as it was a better option than providing them with subsidised machines.
Secretary-level officials from the two states also represented their governments. Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh has recently written to the Centre for cash incentives for farmers.
In the order, the tribunal said the central funds given under different schemes, particularly for in-situ management of stubble, were not utilised fully. It brought on record that against targets for the current year, the three states achieved 30%, 70% and 32% only.
In a two-year scheme that started in 2018, the Centre has given ₹1,150 crore to the three paddy-growing states for in-situ management of paddy stubble by using machines. Of the total outlay, Punjab received ₹665 crore. These machines are given 50% (individual farmers) and 80% (groups) subsidy. But the impact is not visible as 750 cases have been reported in the current kharif harvest season, with the last year’s number pegged at 50,500.
Every year, 200 lakh tone tonne straw is produced in the state and only 50 lakh tonne of it is used ex-situ as fodder and in biomass plants while the rest is set on fire. Farmer unions in the state had announced to resort to burning of stubble.
Last year, 28,500 machines like happy seeder, super straw management system, straw shredder and bailer machines were given to the state farmers for in-situ management of paddy stubble while the target is 28,000 this year.
Even as 14,600 machines have been distributed so far, the state government says it will meet the target by October 31.
“It is clear that steps taken are inadequate and do not provide for ground checking and vigilance,” said the tribunal, directing the state government to make efforts to check farm fires.
It asked the Centre and the state government place on their websites the data of fire incidents, fix responsibility of the officers responsible for the area in which fires take place on a daily basis and take action for non-compliance.
The tribunal asked state to submit a status report on November 15.