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Sunday, January 17, 2021

Punjab’s burning problem: No takers of the machines (Stubble management)

Under the government’s subsidized in-situ scheme, 10 farmers along with Balwinder Singh shared Rs. 6 lakhs in order to purchase farming machinery for stubble management, including the Happy Seeder, Chopper, and Zero Till Drill. Custom Hiring Centre, opened by this group of farmers for these farms at the Dudhrai village in Amritsar expecting to make goods on their investment in the middle of the pressure on farmers to manage the paddy stubble instead of burning them.

With the paddy harvesting season coming to an end, these bought machines have been used on 60 acres of land only, including Balwinder’s and one more farmer from the group. These machines were hired by some farmers in the village to manage the stubble harvesting for 10 acres of land.

Reffering to the conversation with Top Indi News “No one has stopped them,” Balwinder Singh said, staring at the huge financial loss as the farmers are openly putting stubble to fire in their fields. “What is the use of the stubble management machines then? If the government is selling these machines and wants the farmers to use it, then why not make them aware of their benefits,” Balwinder Singh further stated.

Similarities with Balwinder Singh’s story:

Avtar Singh of Village Chakk Dogra, Amritsar spend Rs. 22 Lakhs to purchase a new combine harvester with a super SMS attachment costing around Rs. 1.25 lakhs. “The government has made Super SMS attachment compulsory with every combine harvester. The Super SMS can be attached with some of the old combines, but mine was not one of them. I had to sell my old combine harvester for a meager Rs 4 lakh. I was hoping to earn some money by leasing out the machine, but only five farmers of my village hired it for harvesting an acre of each non-basmati paddy. They are yet to pay me,” stated Avtar Singh.

Farmers like Avtar Singh and Balwinder Singh are a norm in Punjab’s burning problem rather than an exception, where most of the Custom Hiring Centers (CHC) owners blame the government for the suffered losses as their stubble management machines remains rarely utilized.

Punjab Agricultural Department had claimed to open up 11,000 new CHC’s this year which were in addition to the 8,000 CHC’s which were set up till last year. The Custom Hiring Centre’s lease out these machines to the farmers at a very minimal price to manage stubble so that it stops them from burning it.

Surprisingly higher numbers in farm fires and less stubble

According to the experts, they are surprised over the rise of the Punjab’s burning problems in which farm fires this year in Punjab, looking into the fact there is less stubble to manage. Production of stubble has lowered by 15% and enough resources of around 74,000 stubble management machines this time in hand.

Satnam Singh Rajjian of Rajjian Village, from Amritsar who has been running the CHC for the past several years, explains the scenario: “Majority of our farmers are uneducated and no one made them aware about the benefit of these machines at ground level. Only a handful of farmers are active on WhatsApp groups, social media sites, and the Internet. A majority of the farmers need to be made physically aware about the benefits of in-situ or ex-situ management of the stubble by organizing aggressive campaigns at the ground or field level, not at the social media sites,” Satnam Singh Rajjian stated.

Satnam Singh said that wheat can be sowed in the fields using the Super Seeder, having standing stubble or where the stubble has been burnt after the harvesting. He stated: “Even those who have opened CHCs this year, burnt the stubble in their fields first and then sown wheat through Super Seeder.” Satnam Singh Rajjian further added: “Even after submitting affidavits stating that they will not put their fields on fire, farmers went ahead and did it as the government failed to keep a check on such developments or take action.

Punjab Government’s interaction with a pollution control authority:

The Punjab Government told a pollution control authority, mandated by the Supreme Court that the CHC’s won’t change any rental from small to marginal farmers for the machinery to manage stubble in the state in Punjab’s burning problem. Those who cultivate agricultural land upto 1 hectare by the owner or tenant or sharecropper are known as marginal farmers, and those who cultivate agricultural land of more than 1 hectare upto 2 hectares are known as small farmers.

Rental charges are from between Rs. 100 to Rs. 200 for most of the machines like happy seeder, rotavator, straw chopper, and zero-till drill. 8,000 Nodal officers were appointed by the Punjab Government in the paddy growing villages to check stubble burning this season. When it comes to stubble burning, ironically, Punjab broke the record for the past four years. These officers were supposed to create awareness in the villages by demonstrating the machinery used in straw management and also work closely, being coordinated with the rural development, panchayats, agricultural departments, and revenue.

“This is because at the ground level we never saw any such nodal officer in our village. We were never given his or her contact number. Every time the village patwari (revenue officer at village level) got information about stubble burning in his area, he would open the government website and mention that the fire was in a residential area,” said a farmer from Tarn Taran’s Patti area.

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