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Stubble burning: NGT getting stricter, but Punjab lacks funds to support farmers

Punjab has means to manage straw over 1.15 lakh hectares, but paddy is cultivated over 28 lakh hectares, where 130 lakh tonne of stubble is produced.

punjab Updated: Feb 26, 2018 08:47 IST
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Stubble burning,NGT,Punjab farmers
Nearly 1 lakh farmers who have applied for subsidy to buy happy seeders, bailer machines and straw shredders are waiting to be paid Rs 200 crore.(HT File)

By March 20, the Punjab chief secretary is required to submit an affidavit before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) that all arrangements are in place to check stubble burning after the paddy harvest.

But the state agriculture directorate, responsible for extension services and other arrangements for farmers so that they don’t burn paddy stubble, is still struggling to get funds.

At least one lakh farmers who applied to get subsidy to buy machines – happy seeders, bailer machines, straw shredders and stubble management system attached with the harvest combine machines – are waiting to be paid Rs 200 crore.

The directorate, in a public notice ten days ago, had sought requisition for subsidy from the farmers. In the absence of funds in state coffers, officials say the release of funds was delayed and the state has no money to make its contribution.

“We are ready with Rs 20 crore to be given to the farmers. A demand for Rs 30 crore more has been sent for approval of the finance department,” said agriculture director JS Bains.

Out of a total fund outlay of Rs 265 for stubble management, Rs 168 is share from the Centre and the remaining Rs 97 crore will come from the state government. The Centre has sent funds under sub-mission for agriculture mechanism.

A thick layer of smog engulfs the north India, particularly New Delhi, for about a month and over Punjab and Haryana for a shorter duration.

The state has means to manage straw over 1.15 lakh hectares, but paddy is cultivated over 28 lakh hectares, where 130 lakh tonne of stubble is produced.

Farmers in the state burnt 130 lakh tonne of stubble post-paddy harvest in the last kharif season, pushing the air quality index to a hazardous level of 420 points against the normal of 100.

Defiant farmers demanded an incentive of Rs 200 per quintal of paddy while the state government put up a case Rs 100 per quintal bonus to manage paddy stubble.

The state agriculture directorate in October last demanded Rs 700 crore to Rs 1,000 per acre for stubble management manually.

Officials say in the absence of mechanised support, the expenditure had to be borne by some government agency.

Manmohan Kalia, a joint director in the agriculture directorate, said the NGT was acting tough on five states – Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and New Delhi. Of these, Punjab and Haryana are maximum contributors of smog after October when farmers across the two states burn paddy stubble with impunity. The message from NGT is clear — not a single acre of stubble be burnt.

Though the scale of stubble burning was widespread, the Punjab Pollution Control Board could take action only in case of 535 fire cases last time, and it had to stop action when the state government intervened to announce that farmers would not be penalised.

In a three-year action plan, submitted to the Centre in December last, the state government had demanded Rs 7,100 crore to check stubble burning. In 2016, the state had demanded Rs 1,103 crore for the purpose, but it got only Rs 40 crore.

The Centre has been questioning the overestimation by Punjab, but the state says that no less than the given estimates could help check stubble burning and the experts of Punjab Agricultural University have worked on it.

“Punjab needs a sum of Rs 1,130 crore to purchase machinery for stubble management in the entire state,” said the action plan. With these funds, the state plans to buy machines – paddy straw shredder, mulching machine and rotavators and happy seeders – to be given to farmers for straw management.

First Published: Feb 26, 2018 08:47 IST