With the wheat-sowing season approaching, incidents of stubble burning have registered a five-fold rise in Punjab than those reported in the corresponding period in the past two years, pointing to the inability or reluctance of the authorities to check the menace. The alarm bells had rung when NASA images showed farm fires in the state, but the authorities were then of the view that the magnitude of the problem was not that serious and because of the agitation over the farm laws, it would not be appropriate to take strict action against the offenders.
With industrial and other economic activity yet to regain normalcy, it might be tempting for the farmers to take recourse to this environmentally hazardous method, but the government should take steps to curb the practice instead of looking the other way. In Punjab, farmers have been advised to plough back the straw into the soil instead of burning it and the compliance remains to be seen.
The burning of crop straw has been a festering problem and there have been suggestions to look into the possibility of formulating a strategy for agricultural waste management to channelise its use for various purposes. Haryana has instituted a system of awarding panchayats that refrain from burning crop stubble and the possibility of a similar practice for Punjab can be looked into. Experts have repeatedly pointed to the fact that the practice of burning stubble needs changes in agricultural practices like the crop pattern and growing of varieties that are more environment-friendly while fetching good yield and prices. Bringing about change is not easy and the farmers have to be educated about the benefits to make them stick to the practice. Not that it had been easier earlier, but with their apprehension over the fate of the MSP regime, conforming to the rules will not be smooth for the farmers.