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Enough machines, but many take the easy way out by setting the field on fire NewsPipa

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On Friday afternoon, along the state highway from Dhuri to Sunam in Punjab’s Sangrur district, hundreds of fields were burning on both sides of the road. Along the link roads leading to villages in Sunam, Dhuri, Sangrur, Lehra Gaga and Andana blocks of the district, small fields are also burning, sending thick smoke into the gray sky.

With the air quality index in the national capital Delhi touching alarming levels, fingers are once again being pointed at a recurring problem – burning of fields during the harvest season to get rid of standing stubble before farmers sow their rabi crops.

In Sheron village in Sangrur’s Sunam block, farmer Nirmal Singh hurries to clear paddy husks from his field. He shouted orders to the workers and soon, their entire 11 acres were on fire.

Nirmal Singh jointly owns a Super Cedar with other farmers in the village. A super seeder is a tractor-mounted machine that sows seed — wheat, in this example — while simultaneously tilling the soil and incorporating standing straw and straw into the soil.

When asked why he set fire to his field when he could have used super seeder, he said, “There is no doubt that super seeder buries the straw under the soil while sowing wheat but the cut straw attracts insects and then we have to spray. A lot of pesticides in wheat crops. So this does not work. The government should instead send us bers and then not set fire to our fields.”

Balers are machines used to compress hay into bales for easy transport and storage.

While farmers admit there are enough machines, from happy seeders to super seeders and mulchers, to deal with hay, there are few cheaper alternatives than setting fire to their farms.

In Ugrahan village, there are about 10-12 farmer groups that own farm machinery – bought with subsidies from the government – yet, most of the farmers have set fire to their fields.

Pargat Singh, sarpanch of Sheron village, admits that while their village has enough machines to handle hay, farmers resort to simpler methods.

Harbans Singh, the former chief agricultural officer (CAO) of Sangrur, who has been placed under suspension by the government for failing to control fires, said the district has about 8,000 machines, including 2,262 super seeders and 922 happy seeders, and together these machines cover 70 percent of the total cultivated land. can cover “We organized 240 farmer awareness camps, posted messages on walls about the harmful effects of stubble burning, invited private organizations to collect stubble but all our efforts went in vain without the cooperation of farmers. It is a mental issue,” he told The Indian Express.

Sangru, the home district of Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, has been among the worst offenders, reporting the highest number of farm fires in the state this season. Of the 26,583 fires recorded in the state since farm fires started around September 15 till November 4, 3,644 incidents occurred in 470 villages in Sangrur. 8,006 farm fires broke out in the district last year.

Between November 1 and 4, The Indian Express visited three villages in Sangrur – Ugrahan, Chanjali and Sheron – reporting more than 100 fires together, one of the highest concentrations of farm fires.

In Chanjali village, farmer Jagsir Singh burns straw on his 13 acres of land. Jagsir said he had just harvested his PUSA-44 crop – a long-duration rice variety that takes 158-165 days to harvest – and was running out of time to prepare his fields for the wheat crop.

While the popularity of high-yielding, long-duration rice varieties such as PUSA 44, Pili PUSA and Dogar PUSA is said to be one of the reasons behind farm fires, another reason is said to be pressure from farmers’ unions, who resisted the idea. Farmers are being punished for fires. Joginder Singh Ugrahan, president of Punjab’s largest farmers’ union, Bharatiya Kishan Union (Ugrahan), hails from Ugrahan village in Sangrur.

For over a month, farmer groups sat on a dharna in Sangrur, with an assurance that no “stern action” would be taken against those who set fire to their fields, among other demands. On October 29, after a meeting between union leaders and Punjab Agriculture Minister Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal at Circuit House in Patiala, BKU’s Ugrahan told the media that the government had promised to meet all their demands.

According to the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB), between 2016 and 2020, around 861 FIRs were filed against farmers for stubble burning. No cases have been registered in 2021 and so far in 2022.

With a core vote bank of farmers, the previous Congress government had announced that all cases against farmers for stubble burning would be withdrawn. The AAP government has also assured that no disciplinary action will be taken against farmers caught burning straw.

The action taken by the government against erring farmers is a nominal fine – an ‘environmental compensation’ – of around Rs 2,500 and Rs 15,000 per field set on fire. So far this season, the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) has imposed a fine of Rs 2.01 crore, of which Rs 1.05 crore is from Sangrur alone.

Punjab Agriculture Department Director Gurwinder Singh said the government has launched a massive awareness campaign and has already distributed more than one lakh machines for straw management. “We now seek full cooperation from the farmers as well,” he said.

A senior official of the Punjab Agriculture Department, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the fire was caused by a lack of fear among farmers of any punitive action by the government.

“We caught several farmers who bought machines with subsidy from the government yet resorted to stubble burning. At least the government can take action in such cases. Fire cannot be controlled without fear of law,” he said.

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