Smoke Alarm!

An­other smoggy win­ter looms over the na­tional cap­i­tal as farm­ers defy warn­ings and con­tinue to burn paddy stub­ble

India Today - - STATES - By Asit Jolly

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.

Pho­to­graphs by PRABHJOT GILL AM­RIT­SAR

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

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