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Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

Officials fear stubble burning to continue for two more weeks in Punjab

Stubble burning contributes about 17.9% to 39.5% to the particulate matter air pollution in the northern plains. The Punjab government had registered 2,923 cases against the farmers and issued orders for recovery of environment compensation from 1,585 farmers.

india Updated: Nov 05, 2019 07:46 IST
Gurpreet Singh Nibber and Mohit Khanna
Gurpreet Singh Nibber and Mohit Khanna
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh/Ludhiana
Punjab on Monday reported the highest number of farm fires this season – 5,953 in a single day.
Punjab on Monday reported the highest number of farm fires this season – 5,953 in a single day.(HT File Photo)
         

As the cloud cover that militated against an effective mapping of stubble burning cases in the region cleared, Punjab on Monday reported the highest number of farm fires this season – 5,953 in a single day – according to data from the Punjab Agriculture University (PAU).

To make matters worse, officials and experts expected the incidents of paddy straw burning to continue till at least mid-November because the harvest season is far from over. The Supreme Court has, however, asked Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh governments to immediately stop stubble burning.

Before Monday, the highest number of stubble burning incidents - 3,135 - was reported on October 30. With Monday’s count, the total number of farm fires reported from the state was 31,267, according to PAU, which reports farm fire incidents based on satellite images every day.

In 2018, a total of 50,450 farm fires were reported during paddy harvest season between October 15 and November 15.

Anil Sood, a senior scientist at the Punjab Remote Sensing Centre, PAU, said the number of paddy residue burning could increase in the coming days, continuing the trend that started on Diwali, October 28, when 3,105 incidents were reported.

“The number is not unusual,” Sood said, adding that every year there is a spurt in farm fires in the first week of November as the farmers are in a hurry to clear the farms for wheat sowing, while the moisture level in the soil is high and before the temperature drops too sharply.

Stubble burning contributes about 17.9% to 39.5% to the particulate matter air pollution in the northern plains. The Punjab government had registered 2,923 cases against the farmers and issued orders for recovery of environment compensation from 1,585 farmers. But, this is only 13% of the total farm fire incidents reported from the state.

Punjab government officials said that about one-third of the paddy harvest in the state is left, and is expected to be completed only by middle of this month.

In 2019, the kharif season paddy was sown in over 2.8 million hectares (6.9 million acres), out of which aromatic basmati was sown over 630,000 hectares (1.55 million acres). The officials said that the paddy stubble of coarse varieties sown over 2.17 million hectares (5.4 million acres) is not used a dry fodder due to high silica content, and is therefore is likely to be burnt. “Straw of the dry basmati [which is yet to be harvested] is used as dry fodder for cattle and is not burnt,” a government official said, asking not to be named.

Punjab’s agriculture secretary Kahan Singh Pannu said because of efforts by the government, they expect the farm fires to reduce over the next few days.

Sukhwinder Singh, a farmer of Ludhiana’s Samrala village, said that profits from agriculture are falling, making it practically impossible for farmers to dispose of stubble without burning it. Another farmer said that since there is limited time before sowing the winter wheat crop, burning is the easiest and the cheapest way to clear the farms.

The 40,000 machines distributed by the government not adequate to clear paddy straw in about 3.5 million hectares of paddy farms. “The government is doing its bit but the farmers have to cooperate also,” said PAU, vice-chancellor, BS Dhillon.