Punjab farmers resort to early stubble burning for sowing veggies

Updated on Sep 30, 2020 03:59 AM IST
Smoke billows out of a field as a farmer burns paddy stubble near Jandiala Guru in Amritsar on September 28.((Sameer Sehgal/HT))
Smoke billows out of a field as a farmer burns paddy stubble near Jandiala Guru in Amritsar on September 28.((Sameer Sehgal/HT))
BySurjit Singh and Vishal Rambani, Amritsar/patiala

Farmers in Punjab, particularly in the Majha region, have yet again started burning the paddy residue early this year even as the state government is making tall claims of stopping the farm fires.

They are doing so to clear their fields and make them ready for sowing vegetables. The agriculture department officials say potato and peas are sown considerably in many areas. The farmers there prefer to cultivate the Pusa basmati-1,509 and some other hybrid varieties of paddy that ripen fast and thus are harvested early.

Against 159 farm fires reported in the state till September 28 last year, as many as 520 such incidents, most of them from Majha, have been witnessed during the corresponding period this time. And of a total of 407 incidents that took place in the region, 358 were from Amritsar, the state’s worst-hit district.

This despite the fact that the state government on Sunday had deputed more that 8,000 field staff to check burning of straw in fields.

“Since the government has not announced any incentive for straw management, the farmers are left with no option but to burn it. If the government is serious about stopping farm fires, it should announce200 per quintal as handling of straw in fields,” said Jagmohan Singh of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Dakunda).

An agriculture department official said, “Actually, the farmers find burning of stubble the easiest method of disposing it though it is hazardous to health. Since the agriculture income is going down, they try to utilise the gap between paddy harvesting and wheat sowing by cultivating vegetables.”

The government has deputed 8,000 nodal officers in paddy growing villages, with 23,500 machines being given to farmers for an in-situ management of paddy straw. Chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh has appealed the farmers to shun the practice of burning straw several times.

‘We know it’s hazardous,

but have no other option’

At Devidas Pura village of Amritsar district where farmers were spotted burning the paddy straw, the HT team was asked to leave the place promptly. Some farmers said, “We are already facing harassment at the hands of government officials for burning the stubble. We cannot afford any method of managing the straw other than burning it.”

But in some fields, labourers were seen lifting the straw with bailer machines and tractor-trailers transported it to nearby sugar mills.

Kulwant Singh, a farmer from Phoolke village near Batala in Gurdaspur district, said, “The farmers know the side-effects of burning stubble, but they still do it. Keeping in view of their financial conditions and increasing cost of cultivation, they cannot afford any other method of managing the residue. It is like a person committing suicide that he does in a state of depression.”

“Nearly 80 per cent farmers have just 2 to 5 acre land. The government asks us to buy a happy seeder machines to prevent stubble burning. This machine can be operated with a new model of tractor only. It costs around 11 lakh to buy such a tractor. How many of the farmers can afford to buy these machines?” he asks.

Sukhwinder Singh, a farmer from Thatha village of Gurdaspur, said, “Without the government’s support, managing the residue with eco-friendly methods is not possible. As far as the use of bailer machines are concerned, a sizable quantity of grain goes waste,” he added.

Erring farmers fined 55,000 in Amritsar

The administration in Amritsar has imposed55,000 fine on 15 farmers in the district, said deputy commissioner Gurpreet Singh Khehra. Teams of the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) on Monday visited 150 villages after spotting 318 cases farm fires, he added.

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