Call it lack of awareness or the ignorant attitude of the farming community, the unhealthy and dangerous practice of stubble or residue burning continues unabated in almost all parts of Punjab. In some districts, deputy commissioners have ordered a ban on stubble burning and some cases have also been registered. But it is allegedly political interference which forces the administration to turn a blind eye towards the menace. With the harvesting of wheat almost over the farmers have started indiscriminate burning of wheat stubble. It is pertinent to mention here that both the state government and the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) have been telling farmers not to burn the stubble as it not only adversely affects soil fertility but also leads to several health ailments among. However, last year the PPCB passed directions to the respective district deputy commissioners to book farmers for this menace, but on their part the PPCB authorities failed to do much to keep a check on this practice. Interestingly, burning of stubble continues unabated a few hundred metres away from the PPCB headquarters on the Patiala-Nabha Highway. A senior official confirmed that around two dozen cases had been registered in Punjab against farmers for stubble burning. “This (24 cases) is an eyewash as the authorities should ensure that the landlords are booked immediately, without any political pressure, if they burn their farm waste,” said a senior official. Punjab produces 17 to 18 million tonnes of rice and wheat straw and about three-fourth of the residue is disposed off in the fields itself. In Punjab and Haryana, a report monitoring residue burning through Satellite Remote Sensing prepared by the PPCB reveals that farmers still find it the easiest way to burn the residue in the field to get rid of it. The study conducted by Remote Sensing Centre at Ludhiana blames poor storage facility for the straw and lack of market demand for further use, high labour wages and anxiety of the farmers to get the crop produce collected and marketed at the earliest makes the disposal difficult and the crop residue is subjected to open burning in the fields itself. It is terrible time for people suffering from allergies during this period as the smoke billowing from the fields causes breathing problems. The practice also leads to elimination of a farmer-friendly insect, beetle (Zygogramma Bicolorata). However, notwithstanding the directions, the menace continues. As per reports, the farmers in Jalandhar, Patiala, Sangrur, Ludhiana, Kapurthala and other districts are indulging in stubble burning. XEN PPCB Rakesh Nayyar said they had identified some cases which had been forwarded to the deputy commissioner for action under the Environment Protection Act. “However there are only a few such cases,” he said.

Source: May 2, 2016, The Tribune