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
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.
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