Haryana gears up to contain farm fires with preventive and punitive steps

Published on Sep 09, 2022 01:20 AM IST

At the core of Haryana government’s strategy to tackle farm fires are three key steps---make farmers ‘aware’, provide ‘aid’ in the form of subsidised machines to manage stubble and ‘act’ firmly to curb crop residue burning

Haryana gears up to contain farm fires with preventive and punitive steps
Haryana gears up to contain farm fires with preventive and punitive steps
By, Chandigarh

: When Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar addressed Northern Zonal Council meeting in Jaipur on June 9, among the hot-button issues he had touched included the air pollution triggered by farm fires especially in National Capital Region (NCR) after paddy harvesting picks up pace in October.

Patting his government’s back for reducing the stubble burning cases by taking a slew of punitive as well preventive steps, Khattar had dwelt at length on the steps his government has taken to contain farm fires. And to support his claims, Khattar had said that even as per Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) report Haryana had brought down stubble burning by 73% since 2016.

What Khattar had said in Jaipur meeting is also backed by Haryana State Pollution Control Board (HSPCB) data. Haryana reported 6,987 incidents of farm fires during 2021 Kharif harvesting season (September 15-November 30) against 9,898 farm fires recorded in 2020, registering a dip of 30% in one year, HSPCB data indicates.

At the core of Haryana government’s strategy to tackle this annual trouble of air pollution are three key steps---make farmers ‘aware’, provide ‘aid’ in the form of subsidised machines to manage stubble and ‘act’ firmly to curb crop residue burning.

The state government gives cash prize up to 10 lakh to the panchayat of red zone as incentive for not burning stubble. Under one of the state driven initiatives, 1,000 per acre incentive is given to the farmers for baling (ex-situ management). In 2020 8 crore ( 1,000 acre) was given to the farmers and in 2021 this amount given to the cultivators for ex-situ management rose to 19 crore.

In ex-situ crop residue management the crop residue is taken out of the field by using ex-situ management machinery for utilisation as fodder/ fuel/ inputs in biomass etc. Hence, this minimise agricultural residue burning.

“From 2022, it has been decided to extend 1,000/- per acre incentive for in-situ management also,” Sumita Misra, Additional Chief Secretary (ACS), Agriculture, said.

In the in-situ crop residue management practice, the harvested crop stalks/stubbles are chopped into small pieces and incorporated in-situ into the soil to recycle the crop residue with machines.

To further promote ex-situ stubble management, the state government has decided to give additional top up assistance of 5,00/MT and this will be in addition to current provision of 500/MT assistance to the identified clusters for 2G ethanol plant for supplying 2 lakh MT paddy crop residue.

“In 2021-22 about 8 Lakh MT of crop residue was utilised in industries , while in 2022-23 the department is expecting this figure to reach 13 lakh MT,” said Misra, pointing out that a micro level plan has been put in place for management of crop residue during this season.

Hot spots in red zone

Based on the satellite data of Kharif-2021, the government has identified 351 hot spot villages, besides blocks and districts which will be under the radar. All the preventive activities will be intensified in the identified hot spot villages in red/yellow/orange zones.

The machines for stubble management will be provided on priority in the village where above six active fire locations (AFL) were detected last year. Of the total 6,918 villages, in 351 villages six and above AFL were detected, while in 753 villages 2-5 AFL were detected.

As per Haryana’s stubble management action plan that was discussed with the Centre in a recent meeting, 351 villages of 12 districts (Ambala, Fatehabad, Hisar, Jind, Kaithal, Karnal, Kurukshetra,Palwal, Panipat, Rohtak, Sirsa and Sonepat) are in red zone.

For example, 93 villages of six blocks of Fatehabad district are in red zone followed by 76 villages of Kaithal, 53 villages of seven blocks in Karnal, 37 villages of Jind and 30 of Sirsa.

In the yellow zone (2-5 AFLs) are 15 districts, including eight blocks each of Karnal, Jind, Sonepat, and seven blocks each of Fatehabad, Kaithal and Kurukshetra.

As per the ICAR’s 2021 data, 6,887 active fire locations were detected with Fatehabad recording highest 1,479 AFL, followed by Kaithal (1157), Karnal (955), Jind (919), Sirsa (551), Kurukshetra (538), Ambala (308), Panipat (254), Hisar (245), Sonepat (219), Yammunanagar (147), and Palwal (150).

Effective use of machines

Officials say in past four years about 73,000 machines have been given to farmers with a subsidy of 584 crore.

According to Ratan Mann, State president of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Tikait), farmers are willing to cooperate as large number of cultivators have already adopted crop waste management techniques.

“But the government should provide more cash incentives to small and marginal farmers so that they could hire machines to manage crop residue,” he said.

Till July 7063 custom hiring centres (CHC) with 23157 machines (in-situ/ex-situ) had registered and the mapping of remaining machines was completed by August 31. An online mechanism was also developed for monitoring and utilisation of available machinery.

Sources say the state agriculture department has urged the Centre that access should be given to the state government officials to know the details of farmers/CHCs registered on “FARMS” mobile app developed by the Centre to tap the left over CHC/machines.

Yet another suggestion of Haryana to the Centre is that to ensure the accountability of the CHCs and active utilisation of machines by the CHC, the subsidy in case of CHC should be limited to 50% of the project cost.

“Now machines are available in CHCs on rent and also in local market, while individual farmers are looking for financial assistance from the government for hiring the same,” an official said.

For the crop residue management 50% subsidy is given on equipment and 80% for CHCs in order to prevent farm fires.

Virender Singh Lather, retired principal scientist of ICAR, disagreeing with the claims of the state government about reducing the farm fires, says the government’s decision to provide machines at cheaper rates has not yielded any major result. “these claims (dip in farm fires) are being made on papers only and people have to suffer due to poor air quality every year,” he said.

Harvesting schedule/awareness campaigns

The harvest of paddy crop is set to start in last week of September. The challenge before the state government is to stagger harvesting schedule. Near 60% of paddy is considered to be under basmati which matures two weeks later then the non-basmati type.

Another paddy variety, Muchchal, covering about 5 lakh acres will matures after basmati. Thus, staggering is automatically done because of this difference in maturity, officials said.

“Further staggering plan has been prepared by shifting baler units from one area to other. The machine operators/owners prefer to exhaust the GT Road belt first. Then they move to Sirsa-Fatehabad belt prominent for the 1401-Muchchal variety,” said an officials.

Plans are afoot to launch awareness programmes such as drawing 1,000 wall paintings in hotspot villages, erecting 1,000 banner hoardings at prominent places, deploying 50 vans for demonstration, besides organising 2,000 awareness camps in villages and reaching out to farmers of hotspot villages through 5 lakh text messages.

The target is to train at least 20000 farmers also of hot spot zones regarding the operation and maintenance of the crop residue management machinery.

Focus on biomass plants

The focus of Haryana has been on promoting biomass plants (ex-situ projects) where paddy straw is being used. Haryana has total 26 units using paddy straw, including nine biomass power projects with capacity of 73.45 MW, one Bio Ethanol Plant, eight paper/card board mills/industries and eight other industries using paddy straw.

In 2022-23 at least three new plants will be commissioned.

While 4.48 lakh tone paddy husk is being used in nine biomass power projects in the state, total eight lakh MT crop residue was utilised in industries in 2021-22, and in 2022-23 about 13 lakh MT crop residue is expected to be used.

However, Lather, retired principal scientist of ICAR, says that instead of spending huge money by giving subsidy on machines, the government should set up more plants to generate power or ethanol. “These plants will help both farmers and the state government to achieve the target of zero stubble burning,” said Lather.

On the other hand, Ram Kumar, a farmer from Rewar Jagir of Kaithal district, who owns 5 acre, said that in 2018 he had set up a custom hiring centre and purchased machines on 80% subsidy. “With the help of a baler machines, every year I sell crop waste of around 800 acre to power plants and paper mills. I have employed around 100 people and I earned a profit of around 40 lakh last year,” Kumar said.

---With inputs from Neeraj Mohan, in Karnal


    Pawan Sharma, based in Chandigarh, is Punjab’s Chief-of-Bureau, Hindustan Times. In the past 16 years, stints in Delhi and Himachal Pradesh including, he has done high-impact stories on Tibetan affairs, judiciary, politics and corruption in governments.

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