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Stubble burning: Punjab to use satellites to spot offenders

April 03, 2017 11:46 AM

Punjab News Express/Jaideep Sarin
CHANDIGARH : Rewards, threats and even registration of cases -- nothing seems to be working for the authorities in foodgrain states Punjab and Haryana to persuade farmers to stop burning stubble of harvested crop that is so harmful to the environment. Authorities in Punjab are now planning to use satellite technology to keep a vigil on illegal burning of wheat straw in agricultural fields.

With the wheat crop almost ready for another harvest, the Punjab government has constituted a special task force (STF) to curb the burning of wheat straw. Paddy procurement in both states began on Saturday (April 1) and will continue till May 31.

Based on imagery provided by the NASA satellites, officials in the Punjab Agriculture Department and the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) will track the cases of burning and act accordingly, sources in the department told IANS here.

The action, in this case, will be registration of cases against farmers and imposition of penalties.

Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh account for the highest volume of over 550 million tonnes of crop residue produced in India annually. The crop residue of wheat and paddy is straw that is up to 10 inches long. This is left behind from mechanical as well as manual harvesting.

"With land holdings being small in Punjab and Haryana, farmers try to take the quick-fix route to get their fields ready for the next crop. They indulge in burning the crop residue which leads to a lot of environmental and health problems, " Satnam Singh, a retired officer of the Agriculture Department, told IANS.

While the burning of the wheat crop residue in April-May leads to air pollution, haze and respiratory problems, the burning of paddy crop residue in October-November often leads to a thick haze over northern India, causing environmental and health issues as far as Delh and beyond.

"Many farmers set the crop residue on fire overnight to get rid of it. The burnt field, which looks completely black with swirling smoke, is not a pleasant sight nor is it good for the soil. But farmers are not really bothered about the long-term effects of this activity, " Jagbir Singh Sandhu, a farmer in Punjab's Fatehgarh Sahib district, admitted.

In the past, governments in Punjab and Haryana have offered rewards to people or farmers reporting cases of stubble burning, imposed a ban on combine harvesters (a machine that reaps, threshes and cleans a cereal crop in one operation) during night hours, imposed penalties on farmers and even got cases registered against farmers. But none of these measures have stopped the farmers from indulging in stubble burning.

The Punjab government, two years ago, had announced a financial grant of Rs 1 crore and Rs 1 lakh, respectively, for each district and village which completely stopped burning the crop residue.

Green Revolution state Punjab, which occupies just 1.54 per cent of the country's geographical area, contributes nearly 50 per cent of foodgrain to the national kitty. The production in neighbouring Haryana is 40 per cent of Punjab's.

In 2016, the Haryana State Pollution Control Board announced a reward of Rs 11, 000 to a girl from the state's Jind district after she complained to the authorities against her father, who was burning the paddy residue in his fields. The complaint led to the father being booked and a penalty of Rs 2, 500 being imposed on him.

Agriculture scientists estimate that burning one tonne of straw accounts for loss of 5.5 kg nitrogen, 2.3 kg phosphorus, 25 kg potassium and 1.2 kg sulphur. The heat from burning residue elevates soil temperature, causing the death of soil organisms like fungi, pests and reptiles that are otherwise beneficial for the crops.

Other hazards of burning residue include the fire spreading to habitation or forests, accidents caused due to poor visibility caused by the smoke and breathing problems for people.

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