Farm fires: Punjab surpasses last year’s figures - Hindustan Times
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Farm fires: Punjab surpasses last year’s figures

ByVishal Rambani & Anil Sharma, Patiala/tarn Taran
Oct 28, 2022 02:13 AM IST

On Thursday, Punjab recorded 1,111 farm fires, taking the number of stubble-burning incidents to 8,147. So far, the majority of the farm fires have been reported from Majha districts

With the paddy harvest going on in full swing, the number of farm fires has started increasing and is likely to peak by the next week.

With the paddy harvest going on in full swing in Punjab, the number of farm fires has started increasing and is likely to peak by the next week. (AFP File Photo)
With the paddy harvest going on in full swing in Punjab, the number of farm fires has started increasing and is likely to peak by the next week. (AFP File Photo)

On Thursday, Punjab recorded 1,111 farm fires, taking the number of stubble-burning incidents this season to 8,147. So far, the majority of the farm fires have been reported from Majha districts, Amritsar, Tarn Taran and Gurdaspur, where the harvest is early.

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Though the state government is working hard to contain farm fires, the results are not so promising as the number has already surpassed the last year’s figures till date.

On Thursday, the satellites of the Punjab Remote Sensing Centre (PRSC) detected 1,111 active farm fire incidents in the state, whereas on the same day (October 27) in 2020, 2,139 active fire events were captured by the satellite. In 2021, there were 279 active fire events in the state.

The total number of farm fires this season has touched 8,147, higher than last year when 6,742 cases were reported in 2021 till October 27. However, there were less than 18,657 cases reported in 2020.

As far as the region-wise break up is concerned, Majha reported the highest number of farm fires, 3,587 cases this season, while Malwa reported 3,517 cases so far. The Doaba region has reported 1,043 cases till October 27.

So far, Tarn Taran alone has reported 1,738 cases, the highest in the state. And here farmers blame the government for stubble burning.

Farmers claimed that they are forced to burn the crop residue due to the state government’s irresponsible approach. They blamed the shorter window between the harvest of paddy and the sowing of wheat and being short on funds as reasons that they resorted to setting their crop residue ablaze to clear their fields for the winter-sowing season.

Kuldeep Singh, a farmer from Pangota village, said, “Instead of giving a concrete solution for managing stubble, governments make policies in drawing rooms, which are not suitable for farmers. They ask us to use a bailer, but no one is here to purchase paddy straw bales. The Agriculture department asked me to use in-situ handling, but my tractor does not have enough horsepower to pull such heavy machinery. The only solution is that the government should send machinery to make straw bales and collect them or set up a power plant where we can sell it.”

A small farmer can’t afford to purchase machines or take them on rent for stubble management, he added.

Most of the farmers, who are defying the ban, are from farmer unions. Kawalpreet Singh Pannu of Naushehra Pannuan village in Tarn Taran district, who is also state president of the Kisan Sangharsh Committee (KSC), said, “The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had asked the state government to manage stubble of farmers who own up to 2.5 acres free of cost. Similarly, the NGT had also ordered to manage the stubble of those farmers who own 2.5 acre to 15 acres at the cost of 1,000 per acre. But the government is doing nothing and the farmers are forced to burn their stubble.”

He said, “Small and marginal farmers can’t afford the cost of managing their stubble. The government should adopt concrete measures to resolve the issue.”

Harwinder Singh of Gill Vaironwal village in Tarn Taran said, “The government has machines which are used for managing stubble. The government can use the managed stubble in brick kilns and thermal plants. They are not playing their part and the farmers are being defamed. Farmers burn stubble only twice a year. Stubble burning causes only 4% of the total pollution. Why is the same rule not applicable to industries and transportation? We don’t want to sow paddy, but the government should give us an alternative crop with its minimum support price (MSP) and assurance of purchase from grain markets.”

Resham Singh of Patiala said the time window between the harvest of paddy and the sowing of wheat has shrunk because of rains in early October, which delayed the harvest. “As the shorter time window doesn’t allow me to handle straw, I have burnt it. Besides, the union has decided to burn straw unless the government gives us monetary support, which AAP had promised”.

Farmer unions have already asked the state government not to register FIRs.

After Majha, now farm fires started peaking in the Malwa belt. On Thursday, 139 cases were reported from Sangrur, the home turf of chief minister Bhagwant Mann, while neighbouring Patiala reported 134 cases.

As of now, only 60% of the crop is harvested and the farm fires pick up when 75% crop harvest reaches the grain market, which is expected by the next week. After that the farm fires will increase, said a PPCB official.

Punjab Pollution Control Board secretary Krunesh Garg said most farmers are cooperating this time.

“We are hopeful that the area under farm fires will reduce. The next two weeks are crucial. The state government has already asked field staff to remain on their toes to motivate farmers for ex-situ and in-situ handling of straw. The best thing is that people are now willingly bailing bales for ex-situ as some power plants are purchasing the residue bails. Besides, there is an increase in the trend of using super seeders for direct sowing of wheat,” he said.

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