As the smog chokes every person’s breathing system in the NCR region, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal sought an appointment with his counterparts in Haryana and Punjab through twitter to discuss the issue while Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a committee under environment secretary to look into the matter.
Last year, when the NCR region was engulfed in smog, it was blamed mainly on burning of crop residues by farmers in Punjab and Haryana.
The Prime Minister had then constituted a committee under the environment minister. There are few details available on what that committee suggested.
There is a pattern in stubble burning. There is large-scale use of harvesters for cutting paddy in Punjab and Haryana, but these machines leave straws of 1-2 ft height. These crop residues would be cut by farmers manually. But with soaring labour costs these are burnt as winter sets in, preparing the ground for sowing the next crop.
With the change of government in Punjab, the issue has turned political and the BJP does not want to do anything that will antagonise the farming community. Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh already cleared his stand that he would not arrest farmers over the issue. He had also sought Rs 100 per quintal bonus for paddy farmers to re-imburse them for meeting the expenditure for disposal of the crop residues.
The Centre does not agree with his demand. “If we announce bonus, it will be seen as giving a prize to people who threaten to do wrong,” said an agriculture ministry official. The agriculture ministry has released a statement saying there is a scheme under which states can support their farmers in managing the crop residues.
The ministry has asked Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan to help farmers hire machines to manage crop residue, besides creating awareness among them about the harmful effect of straw burning. It also directed the states to demonstrate the crop residue management machines at farm fields using the Rs 132.5 crore funds allocated to them for this purpose under the Sub-Mission on Agricultural Mechanisation for the current fiscal.
In an advisory issued to these states, it said: “Burning of crop residue in states like Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan also contributes to increasing environment pollution level.”
The National Green Tribunal has directed Delhi and the four states to take strict measures to deal with the pollution problem. In view of the seriousness of the problem, the ministry has directed the four states to facilitate residue management machines and equipment through Custom Hiring Centres or village level Farm Machinery Banks.
The machines such as Zero Till Seed Drill, Happy Seeder, Straw Baler, Rotavator, Paddy Straw Chopper/Mulcher, Gyro Rake, Straw Reaper and Shredder are used for managing the crop residue, it said.
The states have also been directed to utilise Rs 4,000 per hectare funds available under the 'Sub-Mission on Agricultural Mechanisation' for demonstration of straw management machines at farmers' fields. According to the ministry’s data, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have together utilised Rs 68.01 crore so far while Punjab has not submitted utilised amount data out of Rs 48.50 crore allocation. Compared to the seriousness of the problem, the amount allocated for this is small.
According to doyen of Indian agriculture M.S. Swaminathan: “The harmful effect of smog has led to the ban on the use of crackers and fireworks in Delhi. A part of the reason for the smog is the burning of the residual rice straw.
“Rice-wheat rotation is becoming popular and farmers would like to remove the rice stubble on time for sowing wheat. There are two ways of handling this. One is the environmentally destructive method of burning the straw in the field leading to smog. The other is to find economic use of the straw so that disposal by burning can be avoided.”