Election casts shadow on Punjab’s farm fire measures

Express News Service

CHANDIGARH:  From appointing 8,000-plus nodal officers to providing farm machinery and announcing fiscal incentives to forming a dedicated task force, Punjab has set an ambitious target of cutting down incidents of farm fire by half this time.

Rough estimates suggest that over 220 lakh tonne of stubble is produced in Punjab. While 50 lakh tonne is diverted to biomass power generating plants, 100 lakh tonne of the remaining 170 lakh tonne is of concern.

Over 8,000 nodal officers at village-level across the state will monitor farm fires in the current season of paddy harvesting, officials said. Similarly, 76,626 advanced agri-machines will be available for farmers to take care of stubbles in 20 lakh hectares of land. Under the Crop Residue Management scheme, the agriculture and farmers’ welfare department has sanctioned 31,970 machinery for individual farmers, primary agriculture cooperatives societies, panchayats, so far.

Director Agriculture Sukhdev Singh Sidhu said the department has already approved 10,297 applications till date for purchase of agri-machines. Patiala, Sangrur, Barnala, Bathinda, Ferozepur, Muktsar Sahib, Tarn Taran, Moga and Mansa were identified as hotspot districts, he said, adding the government was making all out efforts to deploy a special task force for enforcement and regulatory measures there.

Fiscal incentives worth Rs 25 crore will be given to 50 industries, including sugar mills, pulp and paper mills, distilleries and breweries, on a first-come-first-served basis who use paddy straw as fuel. They will be given panchayat land on lease for 33 years for storage of paddy straw, said sources. The animal husbandry department was told to devise modalities for using paddy straw as cattle fodder.

What, however, remains to be seen is implementation of the plans given that Punjab is going to polls. “This year, stubble burning can start as early as mid-September due to early sowing in some parts of the state amidst the pandemic. But with the state elections early next year, it will be difficult task for the government to make sure that the farmers do not burn paddy straw in their fields and to take action on erring farmers,’’ said an official.