Stubble being burnt after harvesting of paddy in Jalandhar last year.(ANI/For representation only)
Stubble being burnt after harvesting of paddy in Jalandhar last year.(ANI/For representation only)

No option but to burn stubble, say farmers as doctors worry about Covid

Fear patient load will increase as virus impacts lungs and pollution from the burning fields can severely affect people’s health
By Vishal Rambani | Hindustan Times, Patiala, Patiala
UPDATED ON SEP 24, 2020 04:38 PM IST

Doctors fighting the Covid-19 pandemic are worried as farmers, with the onset of paddy harvesting, appear to be intent on burning stubble to clear their fields and the resultant pollution is likely to affect patients as the virus mostly attacks the lungs.

Burning of paddy residue after harvesting has over the years attracted much criticism because it impacts air quality, spreading to cities in north India, especially Capital Delhi, creating conditions hazardous to health.

As farmer unions say they will not dispose of paddy by any other means but by burning it unless the government incentivises stubble management, doctors worry about the pollution.

“If pollution trends are similar to the last few years this can be a problem for Covid-19 patients, even for those who have recovered. Covid-19 impairs functioning of the lungs and breathing in smog will increase risks,” says a doctor who wishes to remain anonymous.

Dr Vishal Chopra, a professor of pulmonary medicine at the Government Rajindra Medical College, Patiala, who is also managing Covid-19 patients, says people must be extra cautious. “Those suffering from ailments of heart and lungs should be careful. Exposure to smog will create problems.

Patient load likely to increase

Dr Rajesh Sharma, who works in rural areas, says with each year the number of patients with chest and eye problems is increasing. With medical facilities under pressure due to Covid-19, stubble burning is likely to increase the patient load those with chest ailments, including lung and breathing problems, will need medical care.

He appeals to farmers to desist from the practise.

Farmer leaders say they are aware of the problem as they and their families also face health issues, but lack of resources to manage stubble has left them helpless.

“We too face problems and health issues and we live in farms in the fields, but we have no resources to manage it (stubble). The government must give us Rs 200 per quintal as handling charges of paddy straw,” says Jagmohan Singh of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda).

Meanwhile, with the onset of the harvesting season the Punjab Remote Sensing Centre has recorded 61 incidents of fire since September 20.

A maximum of 55 incidents were recorded in Amritsar, three each were reported from Tarn Taran and Mohali and one from Jalandhar.

Chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh had last week blamed the Centre for not announcing incentives to handle stubble. Also, chief secretary Vini Mahajan had directed all the deputy commissioners to ensure zero tolerance for paddy straw burning in view of the NGT guidelines.

FIELDS ABLAZE

Rs40 lakh was collected last year from penalties slapped on farmers

Farm fires in 2019: 52,942

Farm fires in 2018: 51,751

Estimated stubble residue: 200 lakh tonnes

Number of farmers issued fines: 3,200

Environmental compensation collected: 40 lakh

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