Delhi, Punjab may jointly pay incentive for stubble
The governments of Punjab and Delhi are working on finalising a monetary incentive for farmers if they do not burn their paddy residue after harvesting, a top official said on Friday, after the Union government turned down their request to chip in with funds.
As a result of the Centre’s decision, the incentive, which was initially set at ₹2,500 per acre, is likely to come down to ₹1,000 per acre. The scheme will be crucial for attempts to discourage farmers from burning crop residue after harvest, an easy way for them to clear fields but a method that sends up clouds of smoke that trigger the world’s worst air pollution crisis in much of North India.
“We had sought a support of ₹1,125 crore from the Union government in the total outlay of ₹1,875 crore while ₹375 crore each was to be contributed by Punjab and Delhi governments. Now, we have received a communication from the ministry of agriculture that our proposal has been rejected,” said Punjab chief secretary VK Janjua.
The chief secretary added that the states are still trying to work out the incentive, which could be now come down to ₹1,000 per acre. The Punjab government has kept an allocation of ₹200 crore in its budget this year to check stubble burning.
HT reported in July that the two state governments – both now controlled by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) — had written to the Centre seeking for it to chip in with ₹1,500 per acre as incentive to help end farm fires.
The Union agriculture ministry did not immediately respond to requests for a comment on Friday.
Officials in the Delhi government too did not share details on how they planned to incentivise farmers to not burn the residue.
But officials, who asked not to be named, said they have already begun preparations to spray a bio-decomposer solution free of cost across Basmati and non-Basmati fields in Delhi. The solution, developed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) in Pusa, decomposes paddy straw naturally within 15-30 days, thereby removing the need for it to be burnt.
Delhi’s environment and development minister Gopal Rai had on Thursday chaired a review meeting to assess preparation for the same, with the agriculture department had asked to get farmers in Delhi to fill a form at the earliest to identify fields that need to be sprayed.
Stubble burning and finding a solution to it is one of the 15-key-focus areas identified by the Delhi government, based on which it will be preparing its winter action plan for air pollution.
But the most pressing issue appears to be convincing farmers in Punjab to give up the practice.
During the kharif season, paddy is sown over close to three million hectares in Punjab. The state produces roughly 18.5 million tonne of paddy crop residue every year. Of this, 49% is managed in-situ (mixing the residue in the soil) and ex-situ (used as fuel) methods, while the rest is set ablaze.
Most farmers burn the residue because it is a quick and cheap way to clear the fields for the sowing of rabi season wheat crop, for which the window is often very short.
The result is that Delhi and its surrounding areas report hazardous levels of air pollution.
An official in Punjab’s agriculture department, who was part of the meetings with central officials, said: “The agriculture ministry has rejected our proposal citing that ₹275 crore have already been sanctioned for supplying subsidised machines for in-situ management of paddy straw”. With the allocated funds, 32,100 more subsidised machines will be supplied to the farmers.
In the past four seasons, at least 90,000 machines have been supplied to farmers in Punjab, with the Centre releasing ₹269 crore, ₹273 crore, ₹272 crore and ₹331 crore in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021, respectively.
The previous Congress government in the state had sought ₹100 per quintal as incentive from the Centre to check stubble burning in 2019.
All these grants, however, have failed to bring down the raging farm fires.
Janjua added that in the upcoming kharif harvest the focus would be on optimum use of machines for in-situ management of paddy stubble. “We will make sure all machines are put to best use and arrangements are being made to tack these machines by a GPS system,” he said.
“I have no hope from any government. The Centre has backtracked and very soon, the Punjab and Delhi governments will also put a lid on the scheme,” said Bharatiya Kisan Union president Balbir Singh Rajewal.
(With inputs from HTC in Delhi)