Rules go up in smoke as farm fires rage in Punjab
Farmers in Punjab, particularly in the Majha region --- comprising Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Tarn Taran districts --- have started burning the paddy residue early this year to prepare the fields for sowing vegetables.
Agriculture department officials said potato and peas are sown in a significant portion of cultivable land in these regions. The farmers here prefer to cultivate the Pusa basmati-1,509 and some other hybrid varieties of paddy that ripen fast and thus are harvested early.
Compared to 159 farm fires reported in the state till September 28 last year, as many as 520 incidents, most of them from Majha, have been witnessed during the corresponding period this time. Of the total 407 incidents that took place in the Majha region, 358 were in Amritsar, the state’s worst-hit district in terms of farm fires.
Jagmohan Singh of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Dakunda) said the farmers have no option but to burn the paddy residue. “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 announce ₹200 per quintal funds for handling of straw,” Singh said.
An agriculture department official said, “Actually, the farmers find burning of stubble the easiest method of disposing it even though it is a health hazard. 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 in-situ management of paddy straw. Chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh has appealed to the farmers to shun the practice of burning straw on several occasions.
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 using tractor-trailers to transport it to the 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. In view of their precarious financial condition and increasing cost of cultivation, they cannot afford any other method of managing the residue.”
“Nearly 80 per cent farmers have a land holding of 2 to 5 acres. 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 sizeable quantity of grain goes waste,” he added.
The administration in Amritsar has imposed ₹55,000 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.