Fines fail to deter stubble burning

Farm equipment which can root out this practice not universally accessible despite govt. subsidy Between September 27 and October 14, the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) imposed Rs. 8,92,500 as fines — or “environmental compensation cess” as it is officially called — on farmers burning paddy stubble. However, they collected only Rs. 3,05,000, according to figures from the organisation. “The fines are collected over time … frequently the farmers don’t have money to immediately pay them,” Gulshan Rai, Chief Environmental Engineer, PPCB, told The Hindu . “However our experience from previous years is that this is not a substantial amount.” The Centre and the States — Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh — have in several meetings through the year declared a “zero tolerance” policy on the burning of stubble for farmers, which, according to various studies, contributes anywhere from 17% to 78% to the particulate matter-emission load in the city during winter. To discourage farmers in Punjab and Haryana — who are responsible for the bulk of such fires — the government has also disbursed Rs. 591 crore to these States to sell subsidised farm implements that can do away with stubble without having to burn them. Officials in the PPCB, on the condition of anonymity, told The Hindu that they were frequently “lenient” when they caught farmers in the act of burning stubble — an offence that invites fines of at least Rs. 2,500 an acre. Officials said satellite images alert them to fields set afire by farmers but actually confronting a guilty farmer is a complex process. ‘We are helpless’ “We get in touch with the patwari (who keeps land-ownership records) to ascertain the farmer in question. Sometimes, farmers protest, sometimes they plead innocence and sometimes poverty. We are helpless at times,” said an officer tasked with following up on stubble burning fires in Punjab. Despite a vigorous focus by governments on making mechanised farm implements — combine harvesters-cum-straw management system, seed drillers, rotary harvesters — available to farmers, it’s still inaccessible to many farmers with landholdings less than 5 acres or those not rich enough to invest in such machines. In Bibipur village, Patiala, there are about 800 households, according to Hardeep Singh, a resident farmer, and nearly 1,200 acres of paddy fields ripe for harvesting.

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