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Centre’s plan to check stubble fire ready, but burning issues in Punjab remain

After the paddy harvest season two years ago, the NGT asked the Punjab govt to take corrective steps, especially after smoke said to be emanating from Punjab and Haryana engulfed Delhi and the rest of the NCR.

punjab Updated: May 18, 2018 09:58 IST
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Stubble burning,NGT,Delhi
The problem of stubble burning has been recurring despite promises and announcements by the states and Centre.(PTI File)

Even as the Union government has sanctioned Rs 395 crore to boost use of machinery in Punjab to process crop residue than burn it, particularly after paddy harvest in October-November, the state has a tough task cut out — motivating farmers to buy the machines.

The Centre has asked Punjab to spend Rs 30 crore on awareness, and the remaining on subsidy on machines such as happy seeder, zero till drill, chopper-shredder and mulching machine — 80% for groups and societies, 50% for individual farmers. Total outlay for the two-year programme is Rs 665 crore; the remaining Rs 270 crore will come next year. The state government is targeting 2,000 profit-making cooperative societies for the subsidy at first. And the Union agriculture ministry is now finalising a panel of vendors to sell the machines. Subsidy will go directly to the vendors while the farmers, who have to apply to the agriculture directorate for the scheme, will pay the rest.

The problem of stubble burning has been recurring despite promises and announcements by the states and Centre. After the paddy harvest season two years ago, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) asked the Punjab government to take corrective steps, especially after smoke said to be emanating from Punjab and Haryana engulfed Delhi and the rest of the national capital region. Last year the Supreme Court asked the Prime Minister’s office to intervene, after which the funds were sanctioned.

“Of 22 million tonnes of stubble produced, 5 million gets managed, and the remaining is the problem. Of this, 6.5 million will be managed as per the programme,” said Manmohan Kalia, a joint director-rank officer with the state agriculture directorate. On the awareness front, he said, the government will recruit volunteers from among students at the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU). Besides the university and the directorate, the Punjab State Farmers’ Commission too will be roped in to clear doubts, he added.

‘Include in MSP too’

Farmers, however, want the expenditure to be borne by the government, say unions. “Farmers are not ready to take any additional burden,” said Bir Dalvinder Singh, a farmer in Nabha, who was made to represent the state’s farmers before the NGT by the government. “Also, if machines are given on subsidy, who will pay for the cost to operate and maintain them?” He demanded that the minimum support price (MSP) for crops include funds for stubble management, “or there should be Rs 100 per quintal bonus on paddy if the expenditure is not included in MSP”.

On this, Punjab’s additional chief secretary, agriculture, Vishavjeet Khanna said his department has asked the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) to give post-harvest incentive of Rs 100 per quintal to farmers who don’t burn stubble. “CACP has agreed to include the cost of stubble management in the MSP; it is to be seen how much they offer,” he said, adding, “It is expected to announce the MSP for paddy very shortly. We have sought segregation of this cost from the MSP as such.” He urged farmers to adopt mechanised stubble management: “It will improve soil health and give higher yield.”

But Bhupinder Singh Mann, who heads a faction of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), told HT that in the past prices of machines available on subsidy were inflated. “Even after getting subsidy, price remains the same as it actually is. Also, after helping farmers in the purchase, the government can’t get rid of the responsibility. It should give long-term support,” he added.

First Published: May 18, 2018 09:41 IST