Why do Punjab farms still burn and drown Delhi?

On the outskirts of Patiala, much of a five-acre patch is about to become smoke. Within minutes, the golden field of Karnail Singh is covered with fumes that release trace gases and particles. In one village after another, the scene is repeated when farmers set fire to their fields, the fastest way to get rid of rice stubble before wheat can be sown.

The fires that swept Punjab and Haryana have left their neighbor, Delhi, panting and panting. On Friday, pollution levels in the national capital had risen by around 75 points, bringing the general air quality index to 484, categorized as more severe or emergency.

While industries and vehicle emissions are the main contributors to pollution, agricultural fires in winters are a very important factor. The scientists of the air quality monitor of the Ministry of Earth Sciences, Safar, discovered that Delhi's pollution worsened by 35% on Wednesday, the highest of the season, due to stubble burning.

The numbers are revealing. Between September 23 and October 31, the Ludhiana Remote Sensing Center recorded 22,137 cases of active fires in Punjab, a jump of 22% compared to last year with 17,646 cases. Rice is grown on 29 lakh hectares in Punjab, generating 22 million tons of straw after harvest. In Haryana, where 13 lakh hectares of rice are grown, 4,257 fires were recorded in October.

The governments of Punjab and Haryana say they granted subsidies to farmers to buy equipment for rice straw management. KS Pannu, secretary of agriculture of Punjab and nodal officer to reduce the burning of stubble, said the state has spent 500 million rupees since last year on subsidies and Happy Seeders, on 28,000 of those machines last year and 17,000 this year .

But with prices ranging from Rs 55,000 to Rs 2.7 lakh after subsidies, they are beyond the reach of most farmers.

How can farmers afford such expensive machines, especially those with small properties? Asked Malkiat Singh, a leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union in Haryana.

“Even if we had to buy these machines, what are we supposed to do with them once the rice season is over? They will be in use for just 20 days a month, said Pritam Singh from the village of Sanor, 8 km from Patiala.

Those who have invested in the machines said the cost of diesel per acre was too high. Operating the machines on an acre of land incurs a diesel cost of Rs 2,500 to Rs 3,000, Gurmail Singh of Lang village said.

The economically viable option would be for a group of farmers to raise money to buy a machine and take turns using it in their fields. But this poses another problem: they could run out of time.

Between the rice harvest and the wheat plantation, there is only a period of 10 days when varieties of wheat planted early can be planted. The period can be extended to a month for other varieties, according to Mahinder Singh of the Laachkani village of Patiala. Wheat is usually sown in late October with the onset of winter. Research has shown that the sowing date is important as delayed planting could decrease yields.

Gurmeet Singh, owner of a Happy Seeder, the only machine of its kind in Laachkani, said: “Even if it works for nine hours a day, it can operate on just seven acres. Paddy is planted on 1,000 acres in our town and we would need at least 15 Happy Seeders to plant wheat on time. ”

In both states, farmers demand an increase in the minimum price of support for rice or Rs 6,000 per acre of labor to make the investment worthwhile.

We know that burning rice straw is harmful, but we cannot pay from our own pocket to handle the stubble. What option do we have? ”Said Gurcharan Singh of the Sanghera village of Barnala.