Curbing farm fires

UNDER fire from the Supreme Court over the years, Punjab and Haryana face the uphill task of paddy straw management during the harvest season that began mid-September. Punjab has deployed 8,000 nodal officers to keep a vigil on the farms and farmers for incidents of stubble burning. The officers face their first test in the Majha area as it has already become a hotspot, with plumes of smoke arising from some fields. Their mandate, which is a mix of facilitation and penalty envisioned by the government, should goad more peasants to shun this undesirable practice. With over 23,000 more agri-machines — an increase of nearly 50 per cent from last year — to be made available to the peasants, along with the stick of red entries in the land records of the offenders, a further dip in the number of blazing instances is expected. It would be a boost to the encouraging, though slow, trend of reduced instances witnessed since the practice of setting fire to paddy straw to prepare the land for the next sowing was banned.

Likewise, on the basis of crop residue-burning instances last year, Haryana’s Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Department has identified red, orange and green zones and the state is ready with a multi-crore-rupee plan to aid small farmers in getting access to agricultural implements. No doubt, with wide-scale awareness campaigns, punitive measures as also amenities provided, farmers of the northwest region are coming around to the advantages of adopting scientific methods of disposal, but the cost factor remains the major hurdle to making a perceptible difference on the ground.

Though, as per the Economic Survey of 2019-20, various efforts led to a ‘significant reduction’ last winter in the total number of farm fires recorded, they have not been effective enough. Serious concerns continue to be raised about the rising air pollution, with the lethal particulates-laden hazy cover extending up to the National Capital Region. They continue to trigger various health issues as people in the affected areas gasp for clean air, their respiratory systems compromised. With its attendant lung issues, the Covid-19 pandemic this time necessitates a stricter vigil and action.

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