Another smoggy winter looms over the national capital as farmers defy warnings and continue to burn paddy stubble
Delhi confronts yet another grey winter this year. Dense plumes of acrid smog rising from burning paddy straw—residue from this season’s kharif crop—are already beginning to pick up across Punjab and Haryana as harvesting gathers momentum. The steps initiated by state governments to discourage farmers from setting fire to paddy residues have had no real impact. Scores of farm fires have already been spotted in Punjab and Haryana, despite both states imposing a complete ban on stubble burning and notifying stiff penalties, including possible jail terms, for defiant farmers.
In Punjab, the Amarinder Singh-led Congress government, last week, also directed deputy commissioners to make ‘red ink’ entries on the khasra girdawari (land record) of defaulters. Landowners are being warned that such entries could result in the denial of loans and farm equipment from cooperative societies. But calling the state government’s bluff, farmer organisations have said they are willing to bear any consequences. Bharatiya
Kisan Union (BKU) Dakonda faction vice-president Manjit Singh Dhaner declared that the only way for state governments to stop farmers from burning paddy stubble was to provide alternatives. The cultivators want the government to either provide requisite machinery for sowing, or announce an additional Rs 200 per quintal bonus to cover the high cost of separating the straw from the soil.
Agricultural experts say equipment like the ‘Happy Seeder’, recommended by the Punjab Agricultural University, can be employed to sow the winter wheat crop without the need to remove the paddy stubble. However, most farmers can’t afford the high cost (Rs 1.3 lakh) and subsidies to buy the equipment are hard to come by.
The Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (EPCA) estimates that as much as 35 million tonnes of paddy straw is set afire at the onset of winter to clear farms in Punjab and Haryana for the rabi wheat sowing.
Monitoring by NASA’s Aqua satellite has shown that stubble burning in northwest India peaks around October 20-25. Besides the dense smog that hugs the earth amid falling temperatures and chokes Delhi and several other cities, the burning of paddy straw also depletes soil nutrients. Agricultural scientists estimate that burning of a single tonne of paddy straw removes 5.5 kg nitrogen, 2.3 kg phosphorous, 2.5 kg potassium and 1.2 kg of sulphur from the soil.
EPCA’s Comprehensive Action Plan to tackle air pollution calls for a stringent enforcement of the ban on the burning of agricultural residues in Punjab and Haryana. But with subsidies for the purchase of Happy Seeders or other such equipment lagging, farmers in the two states aren’t likely to comply with any ban. At least, not this winter.
FIRE IT UP Farmers burn paddy stubble on the outskirts of Amritsar. Punjab and Haryana have both imposed a complete ban on it but the farmers don’t care