After a lull due to rain, the farms in Punjab have started burning again with state recording 2,611 such cases in the past two days, including 987 on Diwali night and 1,624 on Monday. No fires were recorded on November 9 and 10, while on November 11, only 104 fires were recorded in the state.
Experts and officials are fearing that the number of stubble fires will go up in coming three to four days as the rain on Friday delayed the harvesting operations in at least four districts where the crop ripens last.
In the four districts, including Bathinda, Moga, Muktsar and Fazilka, at least 30 per cent of state’s paddy is yet to be harvested. The stubble thus generated would pose a major challenge to the authorities as the window to sow wheat has been shortened further.
In Punjab, the period from November 1 till November 15 is considered the best for wheat sowing.
An official, requesting anonymity, said that Chief Secretary Anurag Verma’s office has been in constant touch with officials on the ground.
“On Friday, Union Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba held a meeting with officials from Punjab and asked them to take action against the those who have not been able to check stubble burning. He has been personally picking up the phone and talking to us and seeking data. The DCs, SSPs and other officials are on the ground to educate farmers”.
Another official said that the four districts were actually posing a challenge to the government machinery. “In Bathinda, the district administration officials were told by the farmers that they did not have any option left. The rain had left their fields wet and machines could not enter inside. The bales which were already lying in the fields had gone wet and some companies, taking away these bales to be used as fuel in their furnaces have now refused to pick them. The village level dumps of these companies were not in a position to store wet bales,” the official added.
He said, “The cultivation time of paddy in these four districts is also to be blamed for the delayed harvesting. In the state-wide schedule of paddy sowing, these districts figure in the end. Hence, the crop takes longer to ripen. Now, it has rained also. Then there is the issue of availability of machines also. The farmers are saying that they have no option but to set the fields on fire”.
Another official said that the farmers were getting impatient and vocal. “They cannot face losses in the form of lesser yield of wheat if the sowing is delayed,” the official said.
Punjab Pollution Control Board chairperson Adarsh Pal Vig, meanwhile, said that the situation was under control. “See, how we have fared on Diwali. While our neighbours had worse AQI than last Diwali festivals, Punjab’s AQI was better than previous years,” he said.
On Centre telling Punjab that they would be sending flying squads to monitor farm fires, Vig said that “The Commission of Air Quality Management (CAQM) is in touch. They have been asking us for the data from time to time. We have been supplying it.”
He said they were working together to combat pollution and the fires were on the decline now. He said there was no challenge. “We have pressed 1.25 lakh machines to handle paddy stubble. There is no issue of wet bales. The companies have huge furnaces and the bails will be used the entire year. By then they would dry up,” he said.
On Monday, Bathinda recorded 272 cases of farm fires, followed by Sangrur (216), Muktsar (191), Fazilka (171), Moga (164), Barnala (132), Faridkot (129), Mansa (110), and Ferozepur (98).
On Monday, Pathankot, Kapurthala, Ropar, Mohali and Gurdaspur recorded zero stubble burning cases.
With Anju Agnihotri Chaba, Jalandhar