With the harvest season approaching, the menace stemming from stubble-burning and farm fire incidents has come under speculation once again. While farmers deem the process of intentionally setting fire to straw stubble as one that is imperative for their crops and produce, the practice is a contributory factor to polluting the air quality farm states and their adjoining states. Farm fires or stubble burning is contributing 3-4 per cent to Delhi’s pollution.
However, experts have said that the practice would decline this year.
Farmers have begun harvesting the rice crop but the number of fire incidents is much lower as compared to the corresponding period, as per experts. They, speaking to India Today, have attributed the extended monsoon season as the reason for reduced farm fire incidents during the past year.
The Punjab government’s action plan targets an overall reduction of stubble-burning cases by up to 50 per cent this year. The state reported 30 per cent fewer cases in 2022 as compared to 2021. Punjab only reported 49,900 stubble-burning cases in 2022 against 71,304 cases reported in 2021. The farm fire cases in 2019 and 2020 were 52,991 and 76,590, respectively.
An estimated 16 million tonnes of paddy straw will be used for different purposes this year.
The rice farmers in Punjab and neighbouring Haryana have begun harvesting their crops and the smoke billowing from some rice fields even alerted the authorities, but the experts say that people need not worry as the cases are negligible.
In fact, less than 10 cases of fire incidents have been reported during the period between September 15 to 21 in Punjab as compared to 106 cases reported during the corresponding period.
“There will be fewer fire counts this season due to various reasons including longer wet spells, damaged rice replantation due to floods, and awareness besides the in situ management of stubble,” said Dr Ravinder Khairwal, Additional Professor, Department of Community Medicine and School of Public Health, PGIMER, Chandigarh.
‘FARM FIRE CASES WILL RISE IN OCTOBER’
Dr Ravinder Khairwal further said that there will be a few stubble-burning cases from October 10 to 12 but incidents will rise during the last week of October and the second week of November. The highest number of cases were reported on October 26 and November 10 during the last harvest season.
“The majority of the farm fire incidents are reported from Punjab, which comes out to be 80 to 85 per cent of total cases. An estimated 15 to 20 per cent of stubble-burning cases are reported from neighbouring Haryana. In fact, the longer wet spell helps maintain the moisture in the air, which is considered good for natural scavenging of pollutants, which means less smog,” Dr Khairwal added.
‘MORE STUBBLE MANAGEMENT MACHINES HELP’
A state government spokesperson said that Punjab had 1,17,672 crop residue management (CRM) machines.
Around 23,792 Custom Hiring Centers (CHCs) have been established in various parts of the state, the official said.
The AAP-led Punjab government has also planned to procure more than 23,000 machines this year. Now, mobile apps have also been developed to hire CRM Machines.
However, a ground report by India Today, in Mohali, revealed that the non-availability of an adequate number of stubble management machines was also responsible for the fire incidents in previous years. The farmers of Rampur Kalan village said only one machine was available in the area and it was inadequate.
FARMERS’ POINT OF VIEW
Two contract farmers, namely Karnail Singh and Surender, said the authorities had provided a single straw reaper which was inadequate. They said the farmers were in a hurry as the window to sow other crops was also small.
The farmers said that harvesting the crop with a combined harvester costs around Rs 2000 per acre. Though the Union government has increased the MSP by nearly Rs 200 per quintal, but the yield per acre would be less compared to last season.
“The rice crop has been hit by the floods in many districts, which will result in reduced yields. No crop damage was reported in Mohali as the fields here are at a higher elevation,” said Karnail Singh.
The area under paddy is around 31 lakh hectares in Punjab, which will produce an estimated 20 million tonnes of stubble. The state has fixed a target to manage around 11.5 million tonnes of paddy straw through in-situ management and 4.67 lakh million tonnes by way of ex-situ management.
Besides the fodder, the straw will also be used to produce energy.