Punjab is expecting not more than 12,000 stubble burning incidents this season, a reduction of about 70 per cent compared to last year, on the back of a "vigorous" awareness drive and distribution of crop residue management machinery, an official said.
Stubble burning in Punjab and neighbouring Haryana is a major cause of air pollution not only in the two states but also in the national capital.
"We are not expecting more than 10,000 to 12,000 stubble burning incidents this season," Punjab Agriculture Secretary K S Pannu told PTI on Thursday.
The number of farm fires have dropped over the years.
In 2016, Punjab witnessed 80,879 stubble burning incidents, which came down to 43,814 in 2017, official data said.
So far in 2018, the state has recorded 1,212 cases of paddy stubble burning as against 3,141 and 6,733 in the corresponding periods in 2017 and 2016 respectively.
According to the data, Amritsar has reported 412 stubble burning incidents so far this year, the state's highest. It is followed by Tarn Taran with 225 incidents and Patiala with 159 incidents.
Satellite images of farm fires are being captured by Ludhiana-based Punjab Remote Sensing Centre (PRSC). Based on the images, the concerned district authorities are alerted, officials said.
The state has also launched a massive awareness drive for farmers to check the stubble burning incidents.
As many as 8,000 nodal officers have been appointed to spread awareness about the ill-effects of stubble burning in paddy growing villages.
"A large number of farmers in the state are cooperating with us in this drive. We have several instances in which villagers have sworn to not burn paddy straw," KS Pannu said.
Schoolchildren have been roped in this awareness drive and asked to convince their parents to not burn paddy residue, he said.
Besides running an awareness drive, Punjab is betting on machinery for effective crop management.
The state has set a target to deliver 24,972 farm equipments including happy seeder, paddy straw chopper/cutter, mulcher, reversible mould board ploughs, shrub cutter, zero till drill, super straw management system on combine harvesters, rotary slasher and rotavator for managing paddy straw.
"So far around 20,000 machines have been delivered to individual farmers, cooperative societies and custom hiring centres and within a week the rest of the machines will also be distributed," Mr Pannu said.
When asked about the farmers claim that the use of machines puts an additional cost burden of Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 per acre on them, he said, "The cost of managing paddy residue through these machines is minimal."
For promotion of agricultural mechanisation for in-situ management of crop residue, the Centre has sanctioned Rs 695 crore to Punjab and Rs 137 crore to Haryana.
In addition to this, the two states are giving a 50 per cent subsidy on machines to individual farmers and 80 per cent to cooperative societies.
Every year as winter approaches, the smoke from the farm fires in Punjab and Haryana, combined with vehicular and industrial emissions and low wind speeds result in thick smog enveloping parts of north India.
The two states annually generate 220 lakh tonne and 65 lakh tonne of paddy stubble, respectively.
Punjab has so far earned Rs 10.77 lakh by penalising farmers who burnt paddy stubble.
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