2 years on, Punjab’s ambitious project to tackle stubble trouble fails to take off
Come September and farmers start setting their fields on fire in Punjab after harvesting paddy, but the state government does not seem to have any answer to curb the practice that is a major environmental hazard.
Its ambitious programme to convert crop residue into bio-energy in a tie-up with Chennai-based firm, Neway Engineers Private Limited, which was to take care of bulk of 20 million tonne of paddy stubble generated in the state each year, has not taken off.
The firm had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Punjab government in November 2017 for setting up 400 processing plants at a cost of ₹10,000 crore to check stubble burning. The plants were to come up within a year, with each having the capacity to store 50,000 tonne of stubble. However, the much-touted project has proved to be a non-starter. Not a single processing plant has become operational even after two years.
The company has been working on its first plant at Mehma Sarja village in Bathinda; its foundation stone was laid by finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal on June 24, 2018, over 20 acre taken on lease from the panchayat. “The plant was to become functional before 2018 harvesting season. Though the company procured paddy stubble last year and stored it at the unit, plant machinery is still to be installed,” said an official, requesting anonymity.
The MoU for the project was signed by the then Punjab Bureau of Investment Promotion (PBIP) chief executive officer RK Verma and Neway managing director K Iyyapan to prevent recurrence of environmental hazard that stubble burning triggers.
Under the project which was to be funded by a consortium of private investors in Singapore and Hong Kong, the company was to deploy a proprietary ‘zero-residue technology’. As per the agreement, the state government was to facilitate the project, expected to provide direct employment to 30,000 unskilled and semi-skilled youth, by allocating seven acre for each cluster point with a concession permission of 33 years for storing paddy straw and setting up the processing unit.
PBIP CEO Rajat Agarwal said work on the first plant was progressing slowly. “We have asked the firm to speed up its work for implementation,” he said.
However, Neway Renewable Energy Limited chief executive officer Mushtaq Ahmed said the project is very much on. “The company will be setting up 94 plants to cover the entire state as the capacity of the processing units has been optimised in the project. We took more than 20,000 tonne last season and will be collecting every bit of paddy straw from Bathinda district this time. We might go to three-four districts, including Sangrur and Mansa, next season,” he said.
Ahmed added that collection was more important in mitigating the ill-effects of stubble burning than stubble conversion into products. “The company will convert it into a few products, one of which is being patented. We also have a tie-up with GADVASU. I have met Bathinda deputy commissioner,” he said, citing the company’s experience and expertise.
With 29.2 lakh hectare under paddy cultivation, farmers will face the challenge of managing nearly 20 million tonne of paddy straw once again this time. They have already starting taking the ‘quick-and-easy’ option of putting a matchstick to the stubble. The state government has requested the Centre to give ₹100 per quintal of paddy to help them manage the stubble.