Stubble burns, farmers from Haryana say they have no option
Several farmers with small land holdings (less than one acre) said the government reached out to them to create awareness about the ill-effects of stubble burning, but added that no real alternatives were offered to them.Updated: Oct 02, 2020, 00:29 IST
Sukhi Ram, 36, a farmer in Chanarthal Village in Haryana’s Kurukshetra district, hired three workers to harvest his paddy crop and separate the chaff. It took him two days to finish harvesting, and another five days for the crop residue to dry up completely so that it could be set ablaze.
Ram, who tills 500 square metres of land (0.124 acres), is aware of the controversy over the burning of crop residue, and its environmental impacts. But for someone with such a small land holding, using stubble removing machines is not a financially viable option, he says.
“I have a transport business on the side, which took a major hit during the Covid-19 lockdown. Even if that was not the case, for farmers like me, who do not own a lot of land, hiring machines for removing stubble is not a very favourable option. We might shift if the government comes up with a better alternative,” Ram said.
HT travelled in villages across Kurukshetra, Karnal and Kaithal districts -- areas from where the maximum number of stubble burning cases are reported every year in Haryana.
Several farmers with small land holdings (less than one acre) said the government reached out to them to create awareness about the ill-effects of stubble burning, but added that no real alternatives were offered to them.
Haryana government officials said though they expect the instances of farm fires to be fewer this year compared to the previous year due to the easy availability of stubble removal machines such as Happy Seeder and Super Seeder, they agreed that several small farmers are already burning the residue in their fields.
“We have reached out to the farmers to make buying and hiring machines easy and affordable for them, but for farmers with small land holdings, the machines are basically useless. For them, burning is a cheaper option than availing of the government subsidy ,” said a Kurukshetra administration official.
Delhi government data shows that last year stubble burning accounted for 44% of the city’s air pollution -- an annual problem that plunges the city into a health emergency in the winter months, making it one of the most polluted cities in the world.
Experts say besides causing air pollution, burning stubble also affects the fertility of the soil as it causes loss of nitrogen, sulphur, potassium and bacteriological content of the soil.
Latest data by the Haryana State Pollution Control Board (HSPCB) shows that between September 25 and September 29, 120 incidents of crop stubble burning were recorded in the state.
Most of these fires were reported from Karnal, Kaithal, Kurukshetra, Fatehabad and Ambala districts.
“We are keeping a close watch on these fires, but over the last few years we have seen that the numbers have consistently gone down and we are expecting that this year too, the number of farm fires will be less compared to last year,” said S Narayanan, member secretary, HSPCB.
Last year, 6,364 stubble burning cases were reported from the state as compared to 10, 288 in 2018. With 12.50 lakh hectares under paddy, Haryana is the second biggest producer of paddy waste in the country, after neighbouring Punjab.
To reduce the incidents of stubble burning, the state last year set up 2,879 custom hiring centres, which provided as many as 15,928 stubble removal machines to farmers. This year, its target is to provide 2,741 machines, including 791 straw balers.
Karamvir Singh, the village head from Chochra in Karnal district, said while the village panchayats are working towards providing easy access to machines at a subsidised rate to farmers, unless moving away from burning is incentivised, the practice cannot be stopped completely.
“Currently, all that a farmer needs to get rid of stubble is a match box. Therefore, unless there is monetary incentive to encourage him to shift, no amount of awareness will be able to stop this practice,” said Singh.
The Supreme Court last year directed the Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh governments to give ₹100 per quintal for non-basmati produce as incentives to farmers who are not burning their stubble. The apex court also ordered the three states to bear the operational cost of hiring of machines for handling the agricultural residue on behalf of marginal and small farmers.
Most farmers in the districts of Karnal, Kaithal and Kurukshetra, however, said the incentive was yet to be distributed.
An official in Haryana chief secretary’s office said, “All district officials have been directed to make sure that machines are made available to farmers, especially the small and marginalised farmers, at very nominal rates. We are also working towards providing monetary incentives to them,” an official from the CS office said.
Satellite imagery by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) shows that the number of fires seen over Haryana has increased over the last one week.
“More fires have started appearing in Haryana over the past few days, whereas the numbers are lower in Punjab compared to the last week,” said Pawan Gupta, research scientist at the Goddard Earth Sciences Technology and Research (GESTAR), Universities Space Research Association.