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5 reasons why Punjab's fires will continue to choke Delhi

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Manjeet Sehgal
Manjeet SehgalNov 10, 2016 | 14:10

5 reasons why Punjab's fires will continue to choke Delhi

Despite rebukes from the National Green Tribunal (NGT), billows of smoke from Punjab's paddy fields will continue to pollute the NCR region. Courtesy the Assembly elections.

Paddy and wheat is grown on an area of nearly 30 lakh hectare in the state, which also produces 47.2 million tonne of stubble, of which 25.2 million tonne and 22 million tonne is wheat and paddy straw, respectively.

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While the state's farmers burn only 25 per cent of wheat straw, they set nearly 95 per cent of paddy straw on fire. We have the following reasons to believe that smoke from Punjab's fields will continue to choke New Delhi:

1) Nearly 70 per cent of voters in Punjab are farmers who are already stressed due to a number of reasons, including bad loans, crop failure and the state government's apathy towards compensating them. Farmer suicides have rocked the state in the past few years. At a time when Punjab is heading for Assembly elections, no political party will afford to annoy this community.

Interestingly, neither the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine nor any of the opposition parties, including the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party, have used harsh words against the farmers as speaking against them will have an adverse effect on election results.

That's why, despite facing criticism in his own state for having failed to control pollution, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal hesitates to speak against Punjab's farmers.

2) The ruling SAD has its largest supporter base in rural areas. Already facing over nine years of anti-incumbency, the Akali Dal cannot afford to annoy the farmers. Though the state government claims to have booked more than 1,800 farmers for paddy-burning this year, it is yet to recover the fines.

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The Punjab government is neither concerned about its own farmers nor about the environment. Its focus is the rural votebank. Sources say state government officials, in two recent meetings held in Chandigarh and New Delhi with the Supreme Court-appointed  Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA), have conveyed their reservations that it is not possible to punish the farmers as elections are round the corner.    

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CM Arvind Kejriwal has been facing criticism in his own state for having failed to control pollution. (Photo credit: India Today)

3) Modernisation of agriculture in Punjab has stopped following the poor financial condition of the state government. The state requires thousands of crore of rupees to buy the latest equipment to handle the paddy straw.

It lacks bailers, paddy stubble chopping and seeder machines to get rid of the problem. The state government is debt-ridden and has to cough up over Rs 1.25 lack crore. The government, which has no money to pay social security and widow pensions, and diverts Dalit scholarship funds for other purposes, is not in a position to modernise its agriculture.

4) Punjab is facing a serious labour problem. While the state's unemployed youth have been venturing to the western countries for greener pastures, its farmers depend on labour from Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Nepal.

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Non-availability of labour has increased the demand for combine machines which save both money and time. Non-availability of cheaper labour besides crop failure has broken the backbone of farmers. Small and marginal farmers cannot afford to hire harvesting machines which cost Rs 1,500 to Rs 3,000 per acre. The state's combine machines also need to be upgraded.

5) Besides the poor resources to modernise agriculture, the biggest reason behind the lackadaisical attitude of the Punjab government to stop farmers from burning paddy residue is the greed for votes. The farmers can be seen burning their fields in broad daylight.

There is a provision to impose a fine of Rs 1,000 per acre on such farmers but the officials ignore the smoke rising from fields. Sources say the officials have instructions not to challan the farmers. They cannot dare to enter the village headed by the ruling party's village headman.

Interestingly, the state has not enacted any law to ban burning of paddy and wheat straw as well. The state government imposes Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code during the paddy and wheat harvesting season and asks them not to burn the agriculture waste.

However, the warnings remain on paper.

Last updated: November 10, 2016 | 14:10
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