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Despite Bhagwant Mann government’s tall promises of stopping stubble burning in Punjab, the state saw 35,000+ farm fires this season

The Supreme Court suggested Punjab should learn from Haryana as the state provides financial incentives to the farmers for not burning stubble.

Despite tall promises by Punjab’s Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann of putting an end to stubble burning in Punjab, the farm fires in the state rose to 35,000+ in the recent Kharif season. In November 2022, CM Bhagwant Mann and Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal held a press conference that promised to end stubble burning by 2023. However, things did not go as per their promises and the so-called plans.

Source: gis-prsc.punjab.gov.in

Stubble burning usually starts around 15th September and continues till the third week of November, which is the time for sowing wheat for the Rabi season. This year, stubble-burning incidents were minimal for the first thirty days as Punjab reported only 1,389 incidents between 15th September and 17th October.

Source: gis-prsc.punjab.gov.in

However, things went south quickly in the following 30 days. From 18th October, there was a rise in the incidents. By 27th October, it was clear that stubble burning was going to be a significant issue for this year as well, and on that day, Punjab reported 766 incidents in a single day.

The situation kept getting worse, and on 29th October, the incidents crossed the 1,000 mark, with 1,068 stubble-burning incidents in a single day. On 5th November, the highest number of such incidents in a single day was reported at 3,230. It continued to remain between 1,500 and 2,000 for the next three days.

Source: gis-prsc.punjab.gov.in

From 8th November to 10th November, the Supreme Court of India slammed the Punjab government for its inability to curb farm fires and ordered the state machinery to stop stubble burning. On 10th November, there were only six reported incidents; on 11th November, there were only 104 incidents reported by the state.

However, on the day of Diwali, i.e. 12th November, the state reported a severe spike, and 984 incidents took place. For the next few days, the incidents stayed above the 1,000 mark and peaked with 2,544 incidents on 15th November. The number of incidents came down between 18th November and 20th November, with 637 and 634 incidents reported on these two days. Still, it is not because of the actions that the government took but because wheat sowing is almost complete in the state. Ideally, Wheat sowing should be done by 15th November to get a good yield.

Meanwhile, AAP leaders pointed fingers at Hindus and Diwali for rising pollution in the national capital. However, data showed that after Diwali, Delhi’s AQI was far better compared to peak stubble-burning days. They also blamed Haryana and UP for the pollution while giving Punjab a clean chit. Interestingly, reports suggest that during the Kharif season, only 2,085 stubble-burning incidents were reported in Haryana and 2,649 were reported in Uttar Pradesh.

With 35,000+ stubble-burning incidents in Punjab, there is a stark difference compared to the two states bordering Delhi. It is unclear on what basis AAP leaders claimed Haryana and UP were responsible for the pollution and not Punjab.

Interestingly, Delhi minister Atishi blamed UP for polluting the Yamuna River as well in a recent statement despite the fact that Yamuna water flows from Delhi to UP and not from UP to Delhi.

Supreme court rapped Punjab government over stubble burning, asked to learn from Haryana

On 21st November, the Supreme Court of India criticised the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led Punjab government for handling stubble burning. Notably, the court has categorically stated that stubble burning is one of the significant contributors to air pollution in Delhi-NCR. However, the court also observed that farmers are being “unfairly” portrayed as villains in the situation. The apex court emphasised the need to listen to their concerns.

During the hearing, it was highlighted that despite 8,481 meetings with farmers and farmer union leaders, the efforts to curb stubble burning did not yield significant results. The court was informed that legal action was being taken against those who indulged in stubble burning, and 984 FIRs were registered in related matters. Furthermore, the state imposed fines worth Rs 2 crores on farmers, some of which have already been recovered.

The bench comprising of Justice SK Kaul and S Dhulia questioned the Punjab government why the process of crop residue disposal could not be made entirely free. The court suggested Punjab should learn from Haryana as the state provides financial incentives to the farmers for not burning stubble.

The court pointed out the issue of depleting water table and arid land in Punjab. Furthermore, it urged farmers to understand the consequences of growing paddy. The apex court advised the state of Punjab to explore alternatives and encouraged the Bhagwant Mann-led government to learn from the Manohar Lal Khattar-led Haryana government for sustainable practices around farming and stubble. The Attorney General of Punjab was asked to find ways to discourage paddy cultivation and promote other crops in the state.

Farmer unions protested against FIRs

On 20th November, 18 farmer unions protested over legal actions taken by the Punjab government against farmers in cases related to stubble burning. They protested at deputy commissioner offices across 34 locations. Fifteen Samyukt Kisan Morcha-affiliated unions and 18 other farmer unions participated in the protests. They demanded the withdrawal of FIRs, fines and other punitive measures taken by the state government. Union convener Sarwan Singh Pandher expressed his concerns over FIRs, environmental compensation, and red entries in land records of the farmers and land owners where stubble was burnt.

The four-hour symbolic protest led by farmer unions was meant to criticise the authorities for alleged inaction towards industries causing pollution. At some locations in Ludhiana, farmers also clashed with the police. On the other hand, in Mohali, farmers burnt stubble outside the DC office. The union leaders called for introspection on post-Diwali air quality and challenged the tendency to blame farmers. They further vowed to reveal the next course of action soon, highlighting broader discontent and demanded a sustainable solution in the agriculture sector.

Notably, the FIRs and fines imposed on farmers for stubble burning were revoked in previous years after farmers protested over it.

OpIndia’s detailed coverage of stubble burning can be checked here.

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Anurag
Anurag
B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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