157k Punjab farmers seek machines for effective management of stubble

By, Chandigarh
Sep 17, 2023 11:54 PM IST

Around 157,000 Punjab farmers have applied for 24,569 subsidized machines for better crop residue management that will be distributed this week

Punjab is seeing a high demand for machines to manage farm residue, the burning of which cause severe air pollution in northern India every autumn, as around 157,000 farmers have applied for 24,569 subsidized machines that will be distributed this week, officials said.

Punjab is seeing a high demand for machines to manage farm residue which cause severe air pollution in northern India. (HT Archive)
Punjab is seeing a high demand for machines to manage farm residue which cause severe air pollution in northern India. (HT Archive)

Applications for smart seeders, machines that are used to plant winter wheat after harvesting paddy without removing the stubble, comprise a third (59,000) of all requests, officials of the state agriculture department said. The department will provide 11,970 such machines at subsidized rates to farmers, custom hiring centres and panchayat groups, they said.

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Similarly, for zero till drill machines to be given for stubble management, the department has received 26,915 applications. The state government provides a subsidy of 50% to individual farmers and 80% subsidy to hiring centres and panchayat groups for these machines.

For collecting paddy stubble and making bundles, the department will give 130 balers that cost 15 lakh to 20 lakhs, for which the farmers have shown keen interest as 6,878 have applied for 130 machines.

Besides these, the state government will provide 30 big balers worth 1 crore each and capable of making bundles of hay from over 100 acres a day, to farmer groups or hiring centres this year. The machines will be offered on 65% subsidy, for which the industry using the stubble will contribute 25% and the hiring centres will contribute 10%.

In Punjab, paddy is grown over 3 million hectares (7.5 million acres), which generates around 19-20 million tonnes of the foodgrain and 22 million tonnes of stubble.

About 60% (12 million tonnes) of the stubble is managed through on-site techniques -- mixed in the soil or used as fuel in the industry -- while the rest of about 10 million tonnes is set ablaze, leading to severe air pollution. The stubble burning forms a smog blankets every year in autumn over northern India, including the national capital region.

“In the upcoming season, the focus is also on ex-situ management, for which we are roping in big industrial units and power plants, which could use stubble as fuel in boilers and for that balers are important,” said Jaswant Singh, director at the agriculture department. “The machines with foreign technology are being assembled in Punjab, which will help remove stubble by making bales of three to five quintals.”

Apart from the smart seeder, most of the machines in the subsidy list are for collecting, making bundles and evacuating the paddy stubble.

For on site management, machines such as reverse plough (390), mulcher (391), straw chopper (115) and shrub master (305) are to be given, for which thousands of applications have been received, official said. However, straw management machines made mandatory by the state government to be attached with harvesters have found few takers, as only 1,002 have applied for 1,006 machines.

This is the sixth consecutive autumn harvest season since 2018 when subsidised machines are being distributed for which the Centre is giving a financial grant. However, unlike the previous five kharif seasons (2018-22), when 100% grant was given, this time the Centre will contribute 60% of 350 crore sanctioned funds. The Punjab government will contribute the rest ( 140 crore).

In the past five kharif harvest seasons, 1.17 lakh subsidized machines were provided to farmers, custom hiring centres and panchayat groups at a cost of 1,370 crore, but stubble fires continued to rage in the state’s farms.

Last year, 49,000 fires were reported, down from 71,000 in 2021. They still caused considerable environmental and health hazards for the people living in the north Indian plains.

After the distribution of machines this year, the total number of machines supplied for stubble management will touch 1.41 lakh at a total expenditure of 1,720 crore. In the past seasons, the delivery of machines had been delayed to end of harvest, for which the Centre pulled up state officials.

“This time the delivery of machines will start with the start of paddy harvest,” said an officer. The state’s agriculture department and its procurement agencies will start buying paddy from October 1, and has set a target of procuring 180 lakh tonnes.

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    Gurpreet Singh Nibber is an Assistant Editor with the Punjab bureau. He covers politics, agriculture, power sector, environment, Sikh religious affairs and the Punjabi diaspora.

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