The Punjab government has constituted a special task force (STF) to curb the burning of wheat straw. Based on images provided by NASA satellites, officials in the Punjab Agriculture Department and the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) will track the cases of burning and take file cases and penalise offenders, sources said.
Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh contribute over 550 million tonnes of crop residue produced in India annually. The agriculture ministry discourages the practice but the rush to sow another crop forces the farmers to burn the leftover crop.
"Burning of stubble is the quick fix to get their fields ready for the next crop. But it leads to a lot of environmental and health problems," Satnam Singh, a retired officer of the Agriculture Department.
Burning of crop residue causes air pollution, smog and also poses a serious threat as it leads to medical problems such as breathing issues, allergies and asthma attacks. It causes emission of smoke and toxic gases such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane and nitrous oxide. It also leads to poor soil health by eliminating essential nutrients, agriculture experts said.
"Many farmers set the crop residue on fire overnight to get rid of it. They aren't bothered about the long-term effects of this activity," Jagbir Singh Sandhu, a farmer from Punjab's Fatehgarh Sahib district said.
Training workshops and awareness programmes for farmers are conducted from time to time in both states where they are informed about the harmful effects of stubble burning, officials said.