Punjab’s plan to end farm fires could be derailed


The Center and the Punjab government are keen to bring the paddy stubble fires down to zero in the next kharif harvest which is expected to start from last week of this month, but it seems a far-fetched idea. Reason: shortage of machinery for in situ stubble management, no provision for ex situ disposal, cost of disposing of crop residues without burning and other practical issues.

During a visit to the various villages in Ferozepur, Muktsar and Bathinda districts in Punjab which reported the highest number of fire farms in the 2021 kharif season, the farmers said that the management system of the straw in situ was poorly managed.

At least 90,422 subsidized machines have been provided to farmers between 2018 and 2021 and by the time the harvest begins they will receive another 32,100 such machines.

“The number of machines provided to farmers for in situ management of paddy stubble is too low compared to the area (30.84 lakh hectares) of paddy cultivation and stubble produced,” said Thana Singh of Bhalaiana Village. in Muktsar.

Every season, about 185 lakh tons of stubble is produced with the paddy crop, of which only half is managed and the rest is burned, causing environmental hazard when a thick layer of smog engulfs the northern states of India, especially the national capital New Delhi.

Admitting that he set the stubble on fire last season, the Bhalaiana farmer justified his decision. “Due to the short time between paddy harvest and wheat planting, we have no other choice,” he said.

“So far, stubble burning is the only viable option. The government must look for a permanent solution,” said Paramjit Singh, who farms paddy on four acres in Sherkha Wala village of Ferozepur.

Farmers’ comments are likely to thwart government plans to reduce fires to zero in the next paddy harvest season.

“We have planned that there will be no farm fires this time,” agriculture director Gurvinder Singh said, adding that 32,100 machines will be provided to farmers through a subsidy during the harvest, for which the Center sanctioned 275 crore.

“70,000 additional machines needed to counter the threat”

“According to our estimate, if all the machines are used optimally, we would need at least 70,000 additional machines to counter the threat,” he said.

The state also spent 1,145 crores to incentivize farmers over the past four years and Another 275 crore has been allocated for the current season.

However, all these subsidies have failed to address stubble issues as in 2021 alone, 71,246 farm fires were reported during paddy harvest. However, the agriculture department said the area affected by farm fires has fallen from 17 lakh hectares in 2020 to 14 lakh hectares in 2021.

What are subsidized machines

Subsidized machines include super straw management system, happy seeders, super seeders, paddy-straw choppers, reversible plows, no-till seeder, balers, rakes and shrub master , smart seeders and space seeders, harvesters and self-propelled harvesters. cum-binders.

“This year, the government has allowed paddy planting from June 20, so we would have less days to start wheat planting after removing the kharif crop from the farms,” said Budh Singh of Bhucho Mandi.

“Farmers are ready not to burn stubble provided the recommendations of the National Green Tribunal for clearing fields of crop residues are implemented,” said BKU (Ugrahan) General Secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokri Kalan .

Claiming that in situ management was not a practical solution, he said, “When wheat is sown without removing the straw, the rabi crop becomes infested with pests and weeds, leading to losses.”

Farmers also lamented that there is also no proper arrangement for ex-situ stubble management.

“A few private units in South Malwa collect organic waste from fields for which they charge up to 1,000 per acre. But due to inordinate delays in lifting the bales, they cannot be trusted,” another farmer Paramjit Singh said in light of the Centre’s instructions to thermal power plants to use 10-15% of total fuel from paddy stubble.

Harjinder Singh of Sajdan Wala, who grows paddy on over nine acres, said that instead of burning paddy residues last year, he mixed organic wastes into the soil, but this led to increased costs.

“Authorities are asking farmers to use organic waste as fertilizer, but when we face crop losses, there is no solution to our problems,” he said, adding that farmers would end up burning the stubble again.

An enterprising farmer, Gurjit Singh, who supplied paddy stubble to a biomass power station and a paper mill, said narrow lanes in villages were a common problem when lifting bales, hinting at practical issues.

“We are part of an in-situ straw solution, but at several sites heavy machinery cannot move easily. Despite our best efforts, bale lifting is delayed,” Gurjit said.

Also, there are fewer units that have custom ovens to consume paddy straw to energize the plants and this causes demand issues, he added.

“Government needs to open more units in each district or ensure that warehouses store straw so that bales are removed from fields. When the demand from these factories goes down, they lower the rates and that affects the whole cycle and the economics of our business,” Gurjit added.

CM slams Center

Believing the Center does not guarantee a viable solution for burning paddy straw, Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann said on Saturday that his government planned to donate more than a lakh of machinery for in situ management paddy straw from own resources.

“We had proposed a common solution to this threat, but instead of helping us, the Center dragged its feet. This does not mean that it will prevent us from ensuring the well-being of our farmers and the protection of the environment,” he added.


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