Punjab: Farmers adamant on burning stubble, authorities hope to convince them

On October 10, residents of Thikriwal village of Barnala district tore away flex sheets which had a message printed, asking people not to burning paddy stubble. The tempo driver who had to fix these sheets on flex boards in different villages had to run to save himself and the remaining flex boards lying in his tempo. Minor children too were involved in this protest.

Flex sheets were damaged in many villages of Mansa. At Sangatpura village of Sangrur, these sheets were removed from boards within hours. At Ladhal and Daska villages of Sangrur, government officials were taken hostage when they went to stop farm fires on Saturday. Tehsildaars had to rush to intervene. On October 7, a patwari had been held hostage for hours at Jhoran village in Sangrur and Tehsildar Kuldeep Singh had to apologise publicly to bring back patwari who was kept hostage by BKU (Ugrahan).

In protests being organised at different places in Punjab, farmer union leaders are publicly announcing that they would take officials to task if they come to stop farm fires. They assert that this year, they will not listen to any appeals to stop farm fires.

These are a few incidents which show farmers are hell-bent on burning paddy stubble in Punjab. Many of them claim that when the government is troubling them with farm laws, they would not cooperate with them.

However, the department of agriculture is still hopeful of convincing the farmers. Rajesh Vashisht, Punjab director (agriculture), told The Indian Express, “In 2018-19, we had provided 28,000 crop residue management machines (CRM) to farmers at subidised rates for which there was a budget of Rs 250 crore. In 2019-20 financial year, another 23,000 machines were provided to farmers with a budget of Rs 233 crore. In the current financial year, we have a target of providing 23,500 machines to farmers for which our allocated budget for subsidy is Rs 239 crore. We can extend it to Rs 300 crore as well . All these machines aim to do CRM and hence, farm fires in those fields will come down automatically. These (incidents of farmers’ defiance) are a few sporadic incidents. As farmer unions are protesting against farm laws, they have started raising paddy stubble burning issues as well.”

He said, “I appeal to farmers to relax rail roko as we need a minimum of 20 days to bring DAP in Punjab from Kandla port and further distribute it in all districts as 80% of the DAP is imported. Harvesting is in full swing and, therefore, farmers may need it any time. We need time for transportation and distribution as well. If sowing of wheat is delayed even by a week, it can affect the yield by 1.5 quintal per acre. Hence, the farmers should not cause loss to themselves and should relax rail roko.”

Manmohan Kalia, nodal officer (CRM), told The Indian Express, “Around 14 lakh farmers are involved in paddy transplantation. In 2018-19, area under paddy was 31.03 lakh hectare (LH) out of which 5 LH was basmati. In 2018-19, a total of 49% of area under paddy farming was burnt after harvesting while in 2019-20, area under paddy reduced to 29.30 LH while basmati out of it increased to 6LH and the paddy stubble was burnt on 37.4% area which was 11.6% less compared to previous year. This year, our crop residue machines are increasingly reaching more villages. The area under paddy cultivation has further reduced to 27.3 LH while basmati increased to 7 LH out of this total area. Hence, paddy varieties were grown on 20.3 LH out of which 5LH was done via direct sowing of rice (DSR). We hope that fields won’t burnt in DSR technique and even basmati-growing farmers won’t burn fields unless they grow yet another crop before wheat sowing. We hope to decrease the area under paddy stubble burning. We are aware that farmer unions are protesting against farm laws but still our efforts will continue.”

Kalia said that they have honoured more than 50,000 farmers in the past three years for not burning their fields. However, many farmers are asking union leaders to come to their villages so that no official can check them when they burn their fields. The farmers allege the Centre has also refused to pay Rs 100 per quintal bonus to them for not burning paddy stubble.

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