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Stubble burning chokes Punjab as air quality stays in danger zone

Farmers have been seeking Rs 200 per quintal as incentive and machinery from the govt for alternative methods of clearing the fields.

punjab Updated: Oct 22, 2017 21:00 IST
Vishal Rambani
Vishal Rambani
Hindustan Times, Patiala
Punjab news,Pollution,Stubble burning
Punjab produces nearly 130 lakh tonnes of paddy straw, which is mostly burnt in fields.(HT File Photo)

After chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s announcement that the government will not penalise farmers for paddy straw burning, which is otherwise banned, rampant fires in the fields are choking Punjab and smog has covered the state.

The Air Quality Index has reached alarming levels, with Sunday’s AQI in Ludhiana being poorer at 397 than that of the national capital where ITO in central Delhi stood at 357. AQI up to 100 is considered acceptable, 101-200 is seen as moderate, 201-300 is poor, while 301-400 is categorised as very poor. Above 400, it is considered severe. Ludhiana’s AQI in the last 10 day has even reached 426, which can affect healthy people and seriously impacts those with existing diseases.

For the last 10 days, in fact, Punjab’s AQI has remained above 300. Diwali day delivered a spike from 265 to 328, but this was much lower than the spike last Diwali, primarily due to restrictions on crackers this time. And it must be taken into account that even Diwali day saw a significantly high number of incidents of stubble burning at 1,188. This went up to 1,608 stubble fires reported the next day, and on October 21 at least 995 cases were recorded by the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) through satellite monitoring.

The index reflects how it got worse. The AQI on Diwali in Ludhiana was 379, which reached 423 the next day. “Overall, pollution has increased after Diwali, for which paddy straw burning is solely responsible,” said a senior PPCB official not willing to be named.

Blaming politics

In all, 6,670 cases of stubble burning have been recorded by the PPCB, “of which 80% occurred after the statement of the CM”, said officials. Only 535 farmers have so far been penalised, “as no one is daring to penalise farmers after the CM’s statement”. Stray cases of criminal cases registered against farmers for burning straw or defying orders have been witnessed, “but those had political overtones”, said another senior official.

“Politics has once again derailed our drive against stubble burning. After the Aam Aadmi Party and Shiromani Akali Dal supported farmers, the CM also toed the line. After that, there is no one to enforce the ban, and farmers are setting straw on fire every night,” said another senior officer.

PPCB chairman Kahan Singh Pannu said, “In the last 10 days, while the AQI is remaining above 300, the PM10 value has reached 329 against a normal 100. Smog has enveloped Punjab, which is a cause of concern.”

Punjab produces nearly 130 lakh tonnes of paddy straw, which is mostly burnt in fields. “I appeal to farmers to adhere to directions of the National Green Tribunal, as burning of straw is causing problems to the population and also affects soil fertility,” said Pannu.

Farmers have been seeking Rs 200 per quintal as incentive and machinery from the state for alternative methods of clearing the fields for sowing wheat next. The state government has been appealing to the Centre to grant Rs 100 per quintal as bonus.

First Published: Oct 22, 2017 20:59 IST