How Pun­jab and Haryana’s shot at sav­ing wa­ter de­stroyed air qual­ity

De­lay­ing Paddy Sow­ing For Rains Left Lit­tle Win­dow To Pre­pare For Next Crop

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - TIMES CITY - @times­group.com

Pa­tiala/Lud­hi­ana: Pun­jab and Haryana are fac­ing a pe­cu­liar sit­u­a­tion where an at­tempt to save wa­ter turned out, by de­fault, to be dis­as­trous for air qual­ity across north­ern states, in­clud­ing Delhi.

Fac­ing a sit­u­a­tion where ground­wa­ter was de­plet­ing fast, both states had in 2009 en­acted sep­a­rate leg­is­la­tions, pro­hibit­ing paddy sow­ing be­fore no­ti­fied dates. The idea was to fix the sow­ing date in a man­ner that this wa­ter guz­zling paddy could be ir­ri­gated with min­i­mum wastage, while re­ly­ing more on mon­soon rains for cul­ti­va­tion.

En­force­ment of the Pun­jab\Haryana Preser­va­tion of Sub-Soil Wa­ter Act, 2009 was rel­a­tively easy as the gov­ern­ment could eas­ily cut off free power sup­ply to en­sure com­pli­ance. It, how­ever, re­sulted in a very short win­dow (two to three weeks) avail­able for farm­ers to pre­pare their farms for the next sow­ing (wheat) op­er­a­tion. Ear­lier, they used to get nearly 40-45 days af­ter start­ing their paddy sow­ing in late May or early June.

“We could not start sow­ing be­fore June 22. I, there­fore, opted for early va­ri­ety of paddy. Since I have now only few days left for wheat cul­ti­va­tion, I opted for stub­ble burn­ing to clear the field quickly,” said Ji­ten­der Pal Singh, farmer of vil­lage Jas­pal Ban­gar in Lud­hi­ana district.

Asked why he opted to break the law by burn­ing paddy straw, Singh who has six acres of land said, “If I use ma­chines (straw man­age­ment sys­tem for com­bine har­vester and happy seeder), it will cost me an ad­di­tional Rs 3,500 (rent of ma­chines and diesel) per acre. I can­not af­ford this.”

Once both the states started im­ple­ment­ing the ground wa­ter leg­is­la­tion strictly in the last 4-5 years, the farm­ers ended up re­sort­ing to stub­ble burn­ing in big­ger num­bers to get their farms ready for wheat cul­ti­va­tion. Farm­ers nar­rated this strange sit­u­a­tion dur­ing ground vis­its to vil­lages of Pa­tiala and Lud­hi­ana dis­tricts in Pun­jab.

This year the dates no­ti­fied for com­menc­ing paddy sow­ing was June 22 in Pun­jab and June 15 in Haryana.

“This is in­deed a pe­cu­liar sit­u­a­tion in Pun­jab. But, we are try­ing to cre­ate aware­ness among farm­ers about ben­e­fits of in-situ man­age­ment of paddy straw and ill­ef­fects of stub­ble burn­ing on soil and hu­man health. Mix­ing of straw in the soil will en­sure vi­tal nu­tri­ents af­ter de­com­po­si­tion,” said Gau­rav Dheer, agri­cul­ture deve-

Though there are signs of change in both Pun­jab and Haryana where farm­ers opted for ma­chines for manag­ing paddy straw, the ma­jor­ity of farm­ers still find the al­ter­na­tive quite ex­pen­sive, mak­ing a com­plete en­force­ment of the ban dif­fi­cult lop­ment of­fi­cer of Sanewal in Lud­hi­ana.

Though there are signs of change in both Pun­jab and Haryana where farm­ers opted for ma­chines for manag­ing paddy straw, the ma­jor­ity of farm­ers still find the al­ter­na­tive quite ex­pen­sive mak­ing a com­plete en­force­ment of the ban dif­fi­cult. Even then, it is al­most cer­tain the two states are go­ing to re­port lesser num­ber of farm fires this year as com­pared to 2017.

“The penalty pro­vi­sion is there to stop burn­ing. But, it is con­sid­ered quite an un­pop­u­lar move, po­lit­i­cally,” said an of­fi­cial. Pun­jab had im­posed over Rs 8.92 lakh penalty on farm­ers for stub­ble burn­ing till Oc­to­ber 14, but it could col­lect only Rs 3 lakh - an in­di­ca­tion of how the en­for- cement agen­cies have de­lib­er­ately kept the col­lec­tion process slow.

“We have been en­forc­ing the ban sin­cerely af­ter get­ting satel­lite data and cor­rob­o­ra­tive ev­i­dence of farm fires on the ground. The to­tal num­ber of stub­ble burn­ing will cer­tainly be less this year as com­pared to last year (43,660 in­ci­dents),” said Krunesh Garg, mem­ber sec­re­tary of the Pun­jab Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board (PPCB).

Of­fi­cials in both Pun­jab and Haryana, how­ever, said the real pic­ture will be known only af­ter Oc­to­ber 25 when more and more farm­ers would go for paddy har­vest. “We are con­fi­dent of fac­ing lesser num­ber of in­ci­dents of stub­ble burn­ing this year as the state has taken mul­ti­ple mea­sures to help farm­ers for switch­ing over to in-situ man­age­ment of paddy straw,” said Suresh Gahlawat, ad­di­tional di­rec­tor of Haryana agri­cul­ture de­part­ment.

“The state dur­ing Septem­ber 25-Oc­to­ber 19 pe­riod re­ported 2,138 in­ci­dents as com­pared to 3,070 dur­ing the cor­re­spond­ing pe­riod last year. We would, how­ever, be able to know the fi­nal count only by early Novem­ber,” said Gahlawat.

Un­der the cen­tral scheme to help states to pro­mote in­situ man­age­ment of paddy straw, the gov­ern­ment had ap­proved over Rs 1,151 crore for Pun­jab, Haryana, Ut­tar Pradesh and Delhi for two years from 2018-20. The states have al­ready been al­lo­cated over Rs 591 crore this year with Rs 269 crore be­ing re­ceived by Pun­jab and Rs 137 crore by Haryana.

The states have been pro­vid­ing sub­sidy to the tune of 50% of the cost of ma­chin­ery to in­di­vid­ual farm­ers and 80% sub­sidy to co­op­er­a­tives or self help groups.

Records show that Pun­jab had dis­trib­uted 7,062 farm im­ple­ments to in­di­vid­ual farm­ers while Haryana had done it for 2,814 farm­ers till Oc­to­ber 15.

“Farm­ers need help to switch over to al­ter­na­tives. I think it is bet­ter to im­ple­ment the scheme through cre­at­ing aware­ness among them about ben­e­fits of us­ing straw in the soil,” said Raj Singh Deswal, farmer leader and na­tional sec­re­tary of the Bhar­tiya Kisan Union.

PTI

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