Punjab records 260 farm fires; Amritsar accounts for 60%
Even as paddy harvesting is yet to pick up the pace due to a delayed monsoon withdrawal, Punjab has already reported 260 cases of stubble burning, with Amritsar district alone accounting for over 60% of these incidents.
According to data available with the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB), the state’s Majha region, where harvesting begins earlier than in other areas, 199 farm fires have been reported between September 15 and October 4. These include 161 incidents in Amritsar, 34 in Tarn Taran and four in Gurdaspur. In Pathankot, harvesting is yet to begin.
Malwa region, which comprises 15 districts in south Punjab, accounts for 52 cases, while Doaba region, comprising Jalandhar, Kapurthala, SBS Nagar and Hoshiarpur, has recorded only nine cases.
A quick and cheap way to prepare soil bed for the next crop, widespread farm fires reduce the air quality to dangerous levels in the region, with winds carrying pollutants up to the national capital every year.
Amid delayed harvesting, there has been around 80% drop in incidents this year, as 1,216 cases were reported in the corresponding period in 2020.
However, scientists and environmentalists have warned that farm fires in north India are likely to be more intense than in previous years, considering the delayed monsoon withdrawal from the region.
On Wednesday, the air quality index was recorded at 70 in Amritsar. Though in the “satisfactory” range so far, it could quickly turn “poor” if stubble burning incidents continue in the coming days, say experts.
Farmers say they need incentives
However, farmers say they are forced to burn the paddy stubble despite knowing its environmental consequences.
“We know that stubble burning not only pollutes the environment, but also damages the fertility of our fields. We have been demanding that adequate machinery be provided to us through village-level societies for stubble management besides a bonus of ₹200 per quintal. But, the government is doing nothing,” says Kisan Sangharsh Committee (KSC)’s state convener Kawalpreet Singh Pannu.
Harminder Singh, a social activist based in Jalaldiwal village near Raikot in Ludhiana, says besides fuel prices, the rates of engine oil and grease have jacked up exponentially, making it unviable for small farmers to pursue in-situ stable management.
“Even with subsidies, the farmers are paying ₹25,000 extra for buying a super seeder,” he says, adding that delay in monsoon withdrawal has furthered shortened the window to prepare the fields for wheat sowing, which takes place in the first half of November.
Govt steps up efforts to curb menace
PPCB chairman Adarshpal Vig says the government is open for suggestions and is eager to work in coordination with farmers. “We can resolve this problem only with combined efforts. We have also roped in the industrial to use stubble,” he says.
Meanwhile, district administrations have stepped up efforts to create awareness among farmers. In Majha region, agriculture department officials have been visiting villages and making announcements from gurdwaras to encourage farmers not to burn paddy stubble.
“Our teams are in the field, organising awareness camps against stubble burning. Those farmers who are not burning stubble will be honoured,” says Kuljit Singh Saini, who is the chief agriculture officer for Amritsar and Tarn Taran.
In Jalandhar, which has reported six cases so far, deputy commissioner Ghanshyam Thori has announced ₹50,000 cash reward for panchayats that encourage farmers to shun stubble burning. Deepti Uppal, Thori’s counterpart in the neighbouring Kapurthala district, says strict vigil is being kept at villages that have reported a high number of stubble burning cases in the past.
“We have also arranged 3,500 machines for managing paddy stubble across the district and designated nearly 70 acres of shamlat land for storing paddy bales,” she says.
(With inputs from Jalandhar)