No Option But To Burn Stubble, Say Farmers In Nine DistrictsTEAM TOI
In the next few days, India’s northern region, especially Delhi, is again likely to become among the most polluted places on earth because a vast number of farmers in Punjab and Haryana have decided to continue their annual ritual of setting fire to paddy straw.
This has brought back the spectre of smog choking the region despite the Centre doling out more than Rs 1,000 crore to the two states to fight stubble-burning, and Punjab and Haryana mobilising almost their entire bureaucracy to fight the menace.
TOI sent out two reporters each in Punjab and Haryana to find out what farmers had to say about the efforts made to stop stubble burning. They came back with dismal stories from almost every village. All the farmers they met in villages of Sangrur, Patiala, Bathinda, Mansa, Barnala, Ambala, Yamunanagar, Sonipat and Rohtak districts said they have no option but use to fire to clear their fields. According to them, the cost of operating the subsidised straw management machines eats into the miniscule profits of medium, small and marginal farmers.
Adding to the problem is the campaign to encourage stubble burning in Punjab by farmers’ unions and seek Rs 200 per quintal incentive for paddy straw management. Slogans like “Kisan di majboori hai, nard nu agg lagauni zaroori hai (Farmers are helpless, they have to burn stubble)” are blared continuously from loudspeakers on vehicles in villages across the state.
Punjab government is building an infrastructure of straw management machinery by providing up to 50% subsidy. However, the farmers are not convinced. Having equipment is one thing, according to Gurjant Singh of Lehal Khurd village in Sangrur district, and operating it in the fields is another.
Punjab is spending Rs 270 crore this year on subsidies on happy seeders, mulchers, RMB ploughs, zero till drills, super straw management system on combine harvesters, rotavators etc. Some 7,337 machines have been delivered.
“The cost of operating a combine harvester fitted with a straw management system has gone up by Rs 1,000-1,500 an acre. Even after using the system on harvesters, farmers have to bear an additional cost of running heavy duty tractors to plough the leftovers into the fields. With escalated fuel cost, a farmer needs to spend around Rs 5,000-6,000 per acre to manage stubble,” a farmer in Patiala said.
IT’S THAT TIME OF THE YEAR AGAIN WHEN NEIGHBOURS BURN STRAW AND DELHI CHOKES IN THAT SMOKE
Farmers find fine cheaper than cost of lifting straw
Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh in a recent letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted the additional financial burden faced by farmers due to mechanised straw management.
Govind Singh, who cultivates paddy on a five-acre field, said financial incentive is the only solution. “We are now spending Rs 12,000 for planting paddy on each acre which yields around 25 to 30 quintals of paddy. At Rs 1,750 minimum support price (MSP), a farmer earns around Rs 40,000 to Rs 52,000 an acre. If farmers have to spend Rs 5,000 more on managing straw, it would mean less profits, which small and marginal farmers cannot afford.”
“We get two crops round the year — wheat and paddy. After paddy is harvested, we need the fields cleared quickly and stubble burning is the easiest, cheapest and best option for us,” another farmer, Ramesh, said.
He is ready to pay the fine as that is cheaper than the cost of lifting the stubble. “In the market, they accept small-size residues not large ones standing in fields which can only be used as animal feed. But labour and transportation costs make it uneconomical,” he said.
The number of straw management machines, made available by both the state governments, is woefully inadequate. Punjab is yet to achieve its target of dispatching 24,792 straw management machines.
Jarnail Singh, of Kal Banjara village in Sangrur district said, “Our village with around 1,000 acres of land needs at least five rotators and other equipment. With just two machines, the straw of the entire village cannot be managed. Some rich farmers engage these machines early and the rest of the village waits. Setting fire to the stubble is the easy way out.”
Not getting subsidy on time is another problem. “I have sown paddy in five acres. I had burnt the stubble last year and will burn it this year too. I have got to know that government is offering 50% subsidy on implements. But farmers are not in a position to buy machinery. Even if they are ready to buy these machines they have to face lots of hardships in getting subsidy and their applications are kept pending for a long time,” Jagtar Singh of Kot Shamir village in Bathinda said.
Vikram Singh, a farmer from Myna village in Rohtak district claimed that wellconnected applicants get priority at the Haryana agriculture department to buy subsidised machinery. Ashish Panghal, from the same village, who has paddy growing on eight acres, said he was turned away and was advised to come next year.
In Ambala, farmers have already started clearing paddy stubble by setting it on fire to prepare the fields for berseem (fodder crop) and vegetables. “Lack of awareness about custom hiring centres (CHCs) and lack of adequate machinery has left us with no other option,” a farmer said.
At the Maheshnagar CHC, heading nearly 4,800 acres land in 12 villages, the number of machines are inadequate for managing a residue of 400 acres in a single village. This means the remaining nearly 4,400 acres land of 11 villages will remain without any residue management.
“The machines provided at the CHCs are not capable of covering the allocated areas,” a source in the Haryana government said.
The rising cost of diesel, hovering between Rs72-76 a litre, is a deterrent too. Jagdish Singh, of Barsat village in Patiala district said while the straw management machinery slows down the process of clearing the field, the rising cost of diesel was also discouraging. “Instead, farmers use a match stick and get rid of the problem in no time.”
Across Punjab’s paddy fields in Bathinda, Mansa, Barnala, Sangrur, Patiala and Muktsar, farmers are aware of the problems of setting the stubble on fire. Harpal Singh, of Chuhardpur Khurd village in Patiala, said: “When stubble is set on fire, we and our children are the first to inhale the polluted air. Many in the village are now suffering from respiratory problems and some have even contracted asthma.
“But what can we do?” he asked.
(Inputs by Manish Sirhindi, Neel Kamal, Sat Singh and Jaskaran Singh)
Signs of stubble burning are already visible in Ambala this week
NASA satellite maps show fire spots, before and during the burning season. The Oct image depicts the fire season at its peak with NCR engulfed in smoke
Jagtar Singh grows paddy at Kot Shami village. He says he will burn the stubble