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Saturday, Dec 14, 2019

Farm fires on in Punjab, carrot-and-stick strategy goes up in smoke

794 cases recorded on Monday, 2,145 a day before despite arrests of hundreds of farmers and initiation of punitive action against those not falling in line; process to give financial assistance to those not burning straw also in progress

chandigarh Updated: Nov 12, 2019 06:41 IST
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjab’s agriculture department officials has claimed that though the number of stubble burning cases may have increased this season, the total area under farm fires came down substantially.
Punjab’s agriculture department officials has claimed that though the number of stubble burning cases may have increased this season, the total area under farm fires came down substantially. (HT File Photo )

Farmers across Punjab continue to resort to burning of crop residue unabated even as the Supreme Court last week directed the states to give Rs 100 per quintal to paddy growers for not setting their fields afire and police having registered at least 1,508 FIRs (first information reports) and arrested hundreds of those not falling in line.

The Punjab Remote Sensing Centre, Ludhiana, on Monday recorded 794 cases of stubble fire, taking the total number in the current kharif season to 48,155 against 40,776 such incidents last year. On Sunday, the state recorded 2,145 cases of stubble burning.

But the state agriculture department officials claimed that though the number of stubble burning cases may have increased this season, the total area under farm fires came down substantially. With November 15, considered ideal for completing sowing of wheat, drawing near, there are chances that the number of stubble fires will go up.

As per the figures of the state food and civil supplies department, harvesting is nearing completion, as 150 lakh tonne (90%) of the total 170 lakh tonne has arrived in the mandis. On Monday, ₹5,880 crore as minimum support price (MSP) was released to farmers, taking the total payment to ₹22,700 crore.

The financial incentive ordered by the apex court is to be given to small and marginal growers who own up to 2 hectares of agricultural land and they comprise 60% of the total 12 lakh farmers in state. They and own 40% (16 lakh hectares) of the total 40 lakh hectare cultivable land.

The state government is learnt to have started the process to give ₹200 crore as financial assistance to small and marginal farmers who did not burn paddy stubble this kharif season.

The apex court has given the state government a week to start disbursing the aid. But the disbursal involves a complicated and lengthy process — from filing of a form seeking the benefit and its scrutiny by the village panchayat, the Punjab Pollution Control Board and departments of revenue, panchayats and food and civil supplies. The remote sensing centre will also play a key role in identifying the beneficiaries.

Action initiated against 50% defiant farmers

Punitive action has been started in at least half of the total stubble burning cases, it is learnt. As per the figures of the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB), 24,886 cases in different categories have been made against farmers. These include 11,727 cases of ₹3 crore environmental compensation imposed for burning stubble, 11,580 red entries in farmers’ land records, 1,270 FIRs for violating Section 188 of the Criminal Code of Procedure (CrPC), 238 FIRs under Sections 107 and 151 of the Indian Penal Code for opposing government officials, and imposition of ₹1.42 crore (₹2 lakh each) fine on 71 farmers who owned harvest combines without super stubble management system.

Nearly 200 farmers were also arrested while cases against 94 were sent to trial courts for prosecution.

In its order, the apex court has asked village panchayats to maintain an inventory of stubble burning to help verify the applicants who grew non-basmati crop and used in-situ method to dispose of the straw. The panchayats will also verify whether the applicant falls in the category of small or marginal farmer.

Trend not good for any of us: PAU V-C

Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, vice-chancellor BS Dhillon said Punjab farmers were never this defiant. “The trend is not good for any of us who are worried about the state,” he added.

“I fail to understand why farmers are defiant. The margins of farmers are dwindling, hence those who own up to 4 hectare land should be given financial support. “This would have covered 95% of the farmers,” said BS Rajewal, who heads a faction of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU).

Till recently, Rajewal defended the errant farmers, saying they had no alternative but to burn the crop residue. He was also demanding cash subsidy for farmers for in-situ management of paddy stubble.

This season, paddy is sown over 28 lakh hectares (69 lakh acres) in Punjab, of which aromatic varieties of basmati are sown over 6.3 lakh hectares (15.5 lakh acres).

The straw of normal paddy varieties is not used a dry fodder due to high silica content. Of an average 200 lakh tonne paddy stubble produced in a season, 50 lakh tonne is used in biomass plants while the rest is either burnt or mixed with soil.

In the last two years, the state was sanctioned ₹665 crore for distributing subsidised machinery for in-situ management of paddy straw. Last year, 26,500 machines were supplied. This year, 18,500 machines such as happy seeders, mulchers, bailers, super straw management systems were given to farmers to help them manage their crop residue.