Spike in straw burn­ing cases in state, 10,000 in four days

Of­fi­cials blame it on de­lay in paddy har­vest­ing and late de­liv­ery of ma­chines to han­dle stub­ble, say air quality in­dex much bet­ter this year

Hindustan Times (Chandigarh) - - HTPUNJAB - Vishal Ram­bani

PA­TIALA: De­spite Pun­jab govern­ment’s aware­ness mea­sures, more than 10,000 stub­ble burn­ing in­ci­dents have been re­ported in the state since Di­wali.

The state recorded 40,788 paddy straw burn­ing cases till November 10 this year as com­pared to 41,928 in the cor­re­spond­ing pe­riod last year. A to­tal of 48,000 fire in­ci­dents were re­ported in the state last year and the num­ber was 78,000 in 2016.

On Di­wali (November 7), 3,466 stub­ble burn­ing in­ci­dents were re­ported from across the state while the num­ber was 4,241 the next day, high­est of this sea­son so far.

On November 9, as many as 2,045 fire in­ci­dents were re­ported, max­i­mum in the Malwa belt. At least 815 such in­ci­dents have been re­ported till af­ter­noon on Satur­day (November 10).

Stub­ble burn­ing is widely ac­knowl­edged as a lead­ing cause of the sea­sonal win­ter smog that has made the air in north In­dia pol­luted.

Paddy is grown on 65 lakh acres in Pun­jab. Af­ter har­vest­ing, about 200 lakh tonnes of straw is left in the fields to be man­aged by farm­ers be­fore sow­ing the next rabi crops, in­clud­ing wheat. It is es­ti­mated that 150 lakh tonnes of paddy straw is burnt by farm­ers for early and easy clear­ance of the fields.

The Na­tional Green Tri­bunal (NGT) has fixed fines rang­ing be­tween ₹2,500 and ₹15,000 on farm­ers to pre­vent them from burn­ing paddy fields.

“The fire in­ci­dents are ris­ing now as the paddy har­vest­ing has been de­layed this year. Most of the in­ci­dents are be­ing re­ported from the Malwa districts where farmer unions are strong and are not al­low­ing au­thor­i­ties to take ac­tion against vi­o­la­tors. There have been more than 600 cases where filed staff could not take ac­tion against vi­o­la­tors fol­low­ing farm­ers’ op­po­si­tion. On Fri­day, a Pun­jab Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board (PPCB) team was gheraoed in Bathinda,” said a PPCB official privy to the de­vel­op­ment.

He ad­mit­ted that de­layed har­vest and late de­liv­ery of ma­chin­ery to han­dle stub­ble have led to spurt in straw burn­ing cases. “The time win­dow for har­vest­ing paddy and sow­ing wheat is less than 10 days,” he said. “If field fire in­ci­dents con­tinue at this pace, the num­ber might touch the last year’s fig­ure,” said the official, who didn’t want to be named as he is not au­tho­rised to speak to the me­dia.

The state agri­cul­ture depart­ment said though the stub­ble burn­ing cases have wit­nessed a spike in re­cent days, the area on which the straw was put on fire is lesser this year. “Fire in­ci­dents and the area where the straw is burnt are be­ing mon­i­tored by satellite. The Air Quality In­dex is also much bet­ter in the state this year,” said state agri­cul­ture sec­re­tary Ka­han Singh Pannu.

PPCB spokesman Cha­ran­jit Singh too said the area on which paddy straw is burnt is lesser this year.

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