Nasa data shows just four districts spiked farm-fire figures

LUDHIANA: Stubble-burning in Punjab was higher this year than in 2017, Nasa satellites show, but the real story lies in the detail. Just four districts in the state recorded an almost 30% rise in crop fires while all the rest of the districts registered a decrease, eight districts by more than 25%, according to Indian satellite data with the government.

The high number of crop fires — 57,756 as per Nasa data till November 15 in Punjab and this year as compared with 55,404 last year — suggests the PM’s Rs 1,151-crore package for management of paddy residues failed to make a dent this year.

At the same time, the large variation in stubble-burning incidents, particularly within Punjab, indicates that several factors were in play, some that led to a spurt in burning as well as others that worked in reducing fires.

The four districts where burning increased this year are Ferozepur (up 42%), Muktsar (38%), Moga (14%) and (12%), as per figures collated till November 12 by the Agricultural Technology Application Research Institute (ATARI), Ludhiana. Together, these four districts alone accounted for 40% of fire events in the state, up from 29% last year. “All four districts are in the western Malwa region of the state where kisan unions are strong,” said a state agriculture department official.

Time big factor in fuelling farm fires in Punjab

The unions have been demanding cash compensation of Rs 200 per acre to farmers for not burning stubble. In many areas, the unions ensured that farmers burned stubble in support of the demand,” said a state agriculture department official.

Political factors can’t be ruled out as some of these areas are Akali strongholds, the official added.

Time too played a big part in fuelling fires across Punjab. Rice sowing started late and harvesting was delayed by rains in October, leaving many farmers with a very small window to prepare the fields for the rabi (winter) crop.

“Each day’s delay in sowing of wheat after November 15 decreases yields by an average of 30kg per hectare. Pressed for time, many farmers opted to burn the paddy residue,” said M L Jat from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), an international research organisation that promotes sustainable agriculture in the region in collaboration with the Indian Council for Agricultural Research and other bodies.

TOI travelled through Karnal (in Haryana) and Ludhiana, and farmers in both districts said the respective state governments did not crack down on stubble-burning by imposing challans, particularly when the fires were peaking in November.

In the midst of these failures, there was heartening news as well. Outside of the four Punjab districts and Sirsa in Haryana, all places reported a reduction in crop-burning, as per data released by ATARI.

Among areas that see heavy stubble-burning, Kapurthala (down 53%), Ludhiana (46%), Jalandhar (37%) and Karnal (45%) saw impressive reduction in fires. In many of these areas, in-situ residue management techniques like the use of happy seeders have been increasing in the past two years.

In Taraori village in Karnal, for instance, farmers said roughly 100 acres out of 2,000 saw burning this year. The village has farmers such as Vikas Chaudhry and Manoj Kumar who have been using happy seeders for the past six years.

“Farmers from the village and neighbouring areas have been coming to us to look at how in situ management works and have seen the results. Most of them have now adopted these techniques,” said Chaudhry.

Punjab agriculture commissioner B S Sidhu agreed that large-scale demonstration of in situ techniques was needed, along with training for personnel to handhold farmers making the transition to burning-free agriculture.

“We plan to take up these activities on a wide scale in the coming year. We are sure we will reduce stubble-burning significantly next year,” Sidhu said.

Meanwhile, this year’s burning season is expected to end in a few days, with just around 10-15% of rice harvesting yet to be done, officials said.
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