Why Punjab farmers are defying NGT orders on stubble burning
Often targeted by the state pollution control board, Punjab’s farmers feel victimised as cases against them are being registered for burning paddy straws.
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Punjab farmers burn more than 15 lakh tonnes of stubble every year, out of a total of 100 lakh tonnes of mismanaged farm residue. The state produces nearly 220 lakh tonnes of stubble, out of which only 50 lakh tonnes is being used to produce biomass power generation. The state, in order to obey the NGT orders, however, imposes fines on the farmers found guilty of burning the paddy straws. Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh says he cannot stop poor farmers from burning the paddy straws.
Often called as country's food bowl, here are five reasons why Punjab farmers have been compelled to burn the farm residue:
Poor Farmer's resent imposition of fine
Often targeted by the state pollution control board, Punjab’s farmers feel victimised as cases against them are being registered for burning paddy straws. The state government has directed the district authorities to levy fines up to Rs 2,500 per acre. Farmers say that their avocation is no more profitable and that they are not able to recover even crop input costs — that have incidentally gone up thanks to rising fuel, pesticide, insecticide costs and taxes. Crop failures have too broken their backbone. Punjab and Haryana authorities have, so far, fined 330 and 701 farmers respectively this year.
Punjab farmers burn more than 15 lakh tonnes of stubble every year. (Photo: Reuters)
Punjab has no plans to compensate poor farmers
The Punjab government has no resources to compensate the farmers and to stop them from burning the farm residue. Even though the state government has announced a 50 per cent subsidy on zero tilling or crop residue machines like happy seeders, bailers, rotavators and hydraulic ploughs, the farmers have been unable to modernise their agricultural practices due to their poor purchasing power
"A bailer machine costs Rs 18 lakhs and if hired they charge Rs 2,000 per acre. Got this field on lease of Rs three lakhs and the rice crop which I harvested were worth Rs 1.5 lakhs. You tell me how I will meet the additional cost of Rs 2,000 per acre. The government is asking us to buy the machinery to manage paddy straws but not telling from where we should get the money," says Rattan Pal a Mohali farmer.
Farm Residue management machine costs go up
The farm residue machinery manufacturers have now increased the cost of rotavators following the subsidy announced by the state government on such machines.
The rotavator machines that were earlier available at Rs 85,000 are now being sold at Rs 1.30 lakhs each. Some well-to-do farmers, who had bought seeder machines, have begun leasing them out, charging anything between Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 per acre. Rising fuel prices have also compelled farmers to avoid machinery like these. In many cases, the tractors engines owned by farmers have proven unsuitable for farm-residue clearing machines.
Punjab's farmers have committed suicides due to cash crop failures in which case, they are unable to repay loans. The government which announced a loan waiver is compelling them to raise additional loans.
Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh says he cannot stop poor farmers from burning the paddy straws. (Photo: PTI)
According to NCRB data, between 2013 and 2016, over 542 farmers and farm labourers committed suicide in Punjab. Out of them, 271 killed themselves in 2016. 129 farmers committed suicide in first four months of the Congress government and 49 killed themselves after the loan-waiver scheme was announced.
Paucity of time to sow next crop
Another reason why farmers resort to crop-residue burning is the paucity of time. Farmers only have around 15 to 20 days to sow wheat and potato crops after the paddy crop is harvested. Burning the residue is the shortest and most economical method for the farmers to get rid of straws. However, this method has been suffocating the residents of the National Capital Territory.
Central government not accepting the demand to compensate farmers
The Centre and the Punjab government have locked horns on the issue of providing compensation to the state farmers in order to stop them from burning crop residues. Punjab has demanded Rs 100 per quintal as a grant for farmers. Farm unions have been demanding Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000 to manage farm residue. But the Union government has seems to have ignored the demand. Captain Amrinder Singh has written to the Prime Minister twice already.
“The straws cannot be uprooted unless money is available. I have written two times to the Prime Minister that you give us Rs 100 per quintal for this purpose specifically. I am afraid Government of India has not come up of it," Captain Amrinder Singh said.
There are 17.5 lakh families in Punjab who own farm holdings. Of them, 10.25 lakh families own holdings measuring less than five acres and are poor. It’s farmers from the latter category commit suicides unable to repay the loans, raised to buy medicines, tractors or to solemnise the marriages.