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Monday, Dec 09, 2019

Farm fires in Punjab are highest in 3 years

According to the government officials, there have been 24,886 instances of punitive actions against defiant farmers this harvest season -- this is around half of the total stubble burning incidents reported.

india Updated: Nov 12, 2019 06:25 IST
Gurpreet Singh Nibber and Rajesh Moudgil
Gurpreet Singh Nibber and Rajesh Moudgil
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
On Monday , 794 cases of fire incidents was reported from Punjab as compared to 2,145 on Sunday.
On Monday , 794 cases of fire incidents was reported from Punjab as compared to 2,145 on Sunday.(Sakib Ali /HT File Photo )
         

Farm fires in the ongoing harvest season in Punjab -- a major contributor to air pollution in Delhi and National Capital Region -- are the highest in the last three years according to data released by Punjab Technical University (PAU) based on satellite images.

On Monday , 794 cases of fire incidents was reported from Punjab as compared to 2,145 on Sunday. Till November 11, a total of 48,155 incidents of stubble burning were reported, 16% more than corresponding figure (40,776) in the previous paddy season.

In another paddy major growing state Haryana, stubble burning incidents have fallen by 18% this year with 5,920 incidents reported as compared to 7,273 in 2018 (till November 10), according to the Haryana pollution control board.

To be sure, the paddy cultivation area in Haryana is a third that in Punjab. Still, Haryana’s idea of providing incentives to dispose the stubble seems to have worked, experts said.

Yogesh Patil, chief executive officer of Skymet Weather Services, which monitors stubble burning cases in northern India, said the number of cases reduced to 600- 700 on November 7 and 8 due to rains and increased to 5,600 on November 10. The data is derived from NASA’s satellite images of fires in India.

The two data sets clearly show that there has been no reduction in the farm fires even though the Punjab government has initiated punitive action against erring farmers in wake of the Supreme Court order on November 6, announcing Rs 100 per quintal incentive to farmers who don’t burn stubble.

According to the government officials, there have been 24,886 instances of punitive actions against defiant farmers this harvest season -- this is around half of the total stubble burning incidents reported.

However, a state agriculture department official said on condition of anonymity said that although the total number of farm fire incidents may increase this season, the total area that comes under fire will be much less than 2018.

He quoted the Punjab food and civil supplies department data which showed that the harvest is near completion, with 90% of the estimated harvest of 17 million tonnes arriving in the grain markets.

A total of 3.43 million hectares of farm land was under paddy cultivation this year. One fourth of the estimated 20 million tonnes of paddy stubble produced is either burnt or mixed with the soil, according to agriculture department officials.

Punjab Agricultural University Vice Chancellor, BS Dhillon said state farmers have never shown defiance but they don’t have much option.

B S Rajewal, who heads a faction of farmer’s body Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), said farmers who own up to four hectares of land should have been covered under the SC’s compensation scheme.

The SC said that farmers having land up to 2 hectares, constituting 60% of the total (1.2 million) farmers and owning 40% of the total cultivate farm land, would be provided with compensation of Rs 100 per quintal of stubble.

The process to provide compensation started this week when close to 80% of the stubble has been burnt; farmers also complain that getting compensation is a tedious process. The money is given only after the farmer submits an application, which will be verified by the village panchayat and officials of the pollution control board, and revenue and food and civil supplies departments. In the final step, the claim of no stubble being burnt will verified by the remote sensing department, a government official said.

Government officials also said that the presence of fewer machines this year (as compared to last year) for in-situ handling of stubble contributed to more stubble burning. In 2018, 26,500 machines were supplied as compared to 18,500 this year, a second government official said.

Haryana pollution control board member secretary S Narayanan said strict enforcement at villages known for stubble burning, deployment of eco-friendly harvesting equipments in large number as per central government scheme and creation of awareness among farmers helped in reducing the farm fire incidents. However, 60% of the incidents were reported from four districts, Karnal, Kaithal, Kurukshetra and Fatehabad, which have also reported high pollution levels.