The paddy harvesting season has started in Punjab and the state has already recorded a 45 per cent increase in stubble burning incidents till October 11, but the administration hopes the farm fire counts will come down gradually as a result of intensive interventions made this year.
The period between October 15 and November 15 is considered critical as most farmers harvest their paddy crop during this period. According to data from the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB), the state had recorded 435 incidents of stubble burning till October 11 last year.
This year, the figure has shot up to 630. Amritsar alone has reported 295 incidents of farm fires during the period. Tarn Taran and Patiala have recorded 126 and 57 cases, respectively.
Punjab Agriculture Secretary KS Pannu said the fires detected by satellites don't give a clear picture of the stubble burning incidents. "Satellites data also include fires at cremation grounds and dump yards. The number of farm fires in Punjab at present is almost negligible. The overall count this year will be less than last year," he asserted.
Mr Pannu said that according to the Centre's data, stubble burning incidents in Punjab from October 1 to 10 reduced from 1,714 in 2016 to 430 in 2019.
The Punjab government gave 28,000 farm implements, such as happy seeder, super straw management system, paddy straw chopper and mulcher, to farmers and cooperative societies on subsidised rates in 2018 and has sanctioned 23,000 more this year, he said.
"Of the 23,000 machines, 15,000 have already been disbursed," he said. Farmers claim it is unimaginable for everyone to buy the expensive modern farm machinery to manage stubble. They say they cannot afford to rent it as the rising diesel prices have increased the input cost manifold. Pannu said a financial incentive of Rs 100 per quintal of paddy can resolve the problem once and for all.
The Punjab Pollution Control Board has also roped in around 1.2 lakh NSS volunteers from all government universities in the state in the awareness campaign against stubble burning.
The Centre-run System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research, which noticed a spike in stubble burning incidents over the last few days, said these will start affecting Delhi's air quality now. After oscillating between "satisfactory and moderate" categories till October 9, the national capital's air quality turned "poor" for the first time on Thursday, two days after effigies of Ravana, Meghnad and Kumbhakarana were burnt on Dussehra.
Delhi Chief Minister on Friday blamed stubble burning in neighbouring states for Delhi's deteriorating air quality and hoped that state governments will take necessary steps to check it.