Neither subsidy nor penalty can stop debt-ridden farmers of Punjab from torching straw -Arjun Sharma

Ludhiana: North India’s smog problem — a cause of much tension between states — seems to have left politicians, farmers and even experts stumped.

In Punjab, the government’s measures to tackle stubble-burning have reaped little dividend, as the farmers, many of them debt-ridden, say that at the end of the harvesting season, they are still left with no option but to set paddy straw on fire in order to clear their fields.

This wasn’t always so, though. Take the case of Jagjivan Singh, 45, a small farmer in Pharwahi village of the state’s Barnala district, who till some years ago used to manually get the paddy straw removed and dumped in a huge pit along his three-acre farm to prepare manure. This was done before the wheat planting season.

After the state government in 2008 ordered farmers to plant paddy only after 10 June, Singh, like many others, was forced to start burning his paddy stalks soon after harvest to quickly make way for wheat-sowing.

As he says: “Why would we like to cause pollution by burning the residue of paddy? Only because we do not have an option do we burn it.”

The situation of Buta Singh, 42, another farmer from Rajiana village of Moga district is similar but his reasons for burning the paddy straw are different. For the past few years, with a drop in migratory workers coming to Punjab, the cost of labour has increased. It is thus no longer possible for Buta Singh to get the clearing work done manually after harvest.

Failed government policy

A study by the Department of Economics and Sociology of Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, found that 95 percent of the residue of paddy and 25  that of wheat is burnt every year.

“Lack of buyers, shortage of labour and time for the next crop, and little assistance by the state government emerged as the major reasons behind the ongoing practice,” the study said.

To curb the burning of straw, Punjab has tried methods such as the imposition of fines on farmers, offered machinery for clearance at subsidised rates, and suggested monitoring of stubble-burning through satellite imagery.

Please click here to read more., 10 October, 2018,

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