Rise in stubble burning cases in Punjab
As paddy harvesting has gathered momentum in Punjab, the key grain producing State, as many as 3,307 cases of stubble fire incidents have been reported till October 21, as against 2,564 incidents in the corresponding period last year.The government data is based on the satellite aggregation during the ongoing kharif season, between October 1 till October 21.Tarn Taran tops listDistrict Tarn Taran has seen the highest number of farm fire cases at 705, while Amritsar with 500 cases is at the second spot. Patiala district recorded as many as 431 cases to be at the third place on the list, according to the Punjab Pollution Control Board. Stubble burning, close to the autumn season every year, has been a key contributing factor of pollution in the air and breathing problems among people across the northern region, including New Delhi.K.S. Pannu, Secretary, Agriculture and Farmer Welfare, Punjab, told The Hindu that the reason behind the higher number of fire cases has been the decision to advance the date of paddy sowing this season, a week earlier than the scheduled date of June 20.Early harvest“Consequently, harvesting of the crop has also started early this time. And because of this, the number of farm fires this year, as against the corresponding period last year, is higher. I am sure that the final figure of the fire cases and burnt area would be lower than previous years at the end of the season,” he said.For management of paddy straw without burning, the Centre and the State government are providing subsidised agro-machines and equipment to farmers and cooperative societies. Yet farmers continue to burn crop residue claiming lack of alternatives.“The government should first compensate us and then ask us to refrain from burning crop residue. We should be given a bonus of ₹100 per quintal on paddy or paid ₹3,000 per acre as compensation for expenses incurred on the alternative means of stubble burning,” said Harinder Singh, general secretary of the Bharti Kisan Union (Lakhowal). He said that if farmers are not suitably compensated for stubble burning, the outfit will launch an agitation.No challaans issuedMeanwhile, the State government has so far not issued any ‘challaan’ to those farmers who have been defying the ban on stubble burning. The ban and action against people burning crop residue is regulated under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.“All those defying the ban are being identified and the process is under way. Our role is to identify the location and inform the local administration at the district level and compile reports, which we are doing. The action against them by issuing ‘challaan’ will be initiated soon,” said Karunesh Garg, PPCB member secretary.In 2016, Punjab witnessed 84,000 incidents of stubble fire while in 2017, a dip was seen with the number of cases at 46,000. In 2018, the fire incidents were close to 50,000, according to the government data.Positive responseMr. Garg said the problem of stubble burning will eventually be resolved as farmers over the years have started giving positive response to the government’s appeal. “The burnt area figure, which is compiled at the end of the season gives the actual ground reality about farm fires. Last year, the burnt area had decreased by 9.95% in comparison to 2017. It’s a positive development and gradually the problem will subside,” he said.As paddy harvesting has gathered momentum, farmers in the State are facing the challenge of managing nearly 20 million tonnes of paddy straw. Paddy has been sown in nearly 29.20 lakh hectares this season. It is estimated that over 15 million tonnes of paddy straw is burnt in the open fields to clear the land for sowing wheat or other crops.