Finally the farm fire season is almost over with less than 100 cases reported on Monday, taking the total figure to 71,225 and ensuring that Punjab did better than last year. From an average of over 2,500 cases last week, farm fires are less than 100 now.

Last week, the Supreme Court had again asked the states to persuade farmers not to burn the stubble to curb pollution. In Punjab, total 30.66 lakh hectare is under rice cultivation this year — 26.05 lakh hectare under paddy (non-basmati) and 4.61 lakh hectare under basmati.

Karunesh Garg, Member Secretary, Punjab Pollution Control Board, said farm fire season was almost over now and they expected that the final figure would remain below 72,000 with around 71,225 cases already reported.

So far, the government has imposed an environmental compensation of Rs 2.50 crore on the erring farmers, but nothing concrete had been done to check the menace. Though the number of farm fires this year so far is less than last year, it has crossed the 2019 figure. As per the data, Punjab had seen 76,590 farm fires in 2020 and 52,991 in 2019.

Senior officials said it was high time that the state officials put an end to farm fires, given that political will was missing. “Every season, the government spends crores. Despite wasting over Rs 200 crore on machinery and awareness drives, farm fires continue to bother residents and also add to pollution. The government and officers need to work closely to curb pollution every season,” they added. “Our data shows that till November 15, stubble was burnt in 12.9 lakh hectare of agricultural area. Last year, the same area was 16.5 lakh hectares, which means 22 per cent less than last year. Our efforts to create awareness and ample subsidised machinery provided to farmers in over past three years have shown some results,” Garg said. Against Rs 6.20 crore penalties imposed in the past three years, merely a few lakh had been collected to date. The whole exercise of levying penalties and registering FIRs had turned out to be mere eyewash with no farmer being asked to deposit fines.

Following the SC order in 2020, thousands of FIRs were registered against erring farmers and due to the knee-jerk reaction, the authorities even made red entries into the land records of the farmers. “However, as no fines were collected from a majority of the defaulters, most of the farmers again resorted to stubble burning this season. The government needs to be serious and not bow to pressure tactics by farm unions. Either compensate the farmers or ensure that they don’t create pollution,” said a senior police official.

Despite grant, govt fails to curb menace

  • Despite getting 46% of the total central funds to check farm fires, Punjab witnessed an increase of 44.5% in cases in 2020
  • The Centre allocated Rs1,726.67 crore to various states, of which Punjab got Rs793.18 crore
  • In an affidavit, the Ministry of Environment and Forests said Punjab saw 76,590 incidents of fire in 2020 against 52,991 in 2019