Choking on Smoke: Punjab’s Stubble Burning Crisis Grows

by Parminder Singh Sodhi

The surge in stubble-burning cases this season has raised eyebrows and ignited debates about the effectiveness of government initiatives aimed at curbing this hazardous practice. In a recent development, the Amritsar administration imposed fines totaling Rs 6.97 lakh on 279 farmers for burning crop residue. Additionally, “red entries” have been made in revenue records of 58 farmers in the region, and 16 FIRs have been registered in Jalandhar. These actions highlight the seriousness of the issue and the need for stringent enforcement of anti-stubble burning laws.

Perhaps the most concerning aspect of the current situation is the staggering number of stubble-burning incidents recorded this year. On Monday, Punjab reached a grim milestone as the total number of incidents surpassed the four-figure mark, standing at 1,027. What makes this even more alarming is the fact that this year’s tally is significantly higher than the corresponding data from the past two years. In 2022 and 2021, Punjab had reported 714 and 614 incidents, respectively, by October 9. The numbers this year are 43.8% higher than the previous year and a staggering 67% higher than in 2021.

Historically, most farm fire incidents were concentrated in the border belts of Punjab. However, this year has witnessed a concerning shift, with farmers in the Malwa region also resorting to burning paddy stubble. This expansion of the problem will undoubtedly have far-reaching consequences on the air quality not only in Punjab but also in neighboring states like Delhi.

According to data from the Punjab Remote Sensing Centre (PRSC), the situation on the ground is deeply troubling. On October 9 this year, satellite imagery captured 58 active stubble-burning incidents in the state. By contrast, on the same day in 2021, there were 114 active fire events, and in 2022, there were only three such cases. This significant spike in incidents in 2023 is a stark reminder of the urgent need for effective solutions to combat stubble burning.

Experts have expressed their concerns, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive approach to address this issue. Farmers have been demanding compensation of Rs 2,500 per acre for not burning stubble, but a resolution has yet to be reached with the government. The fines imposed on errant farmers serve as a punitive measure, but long-term solutions are required to tackle the root causes of stubble burning.

As the harvest season progresses in districts like Sangrur, Patiala, and Ludhiana, the farm fire figures are expected to rise considerably in the coming weeks. It is crucial that stakeholders, including the government, agricultural experts, and farmers, come together to find sustainable alternatives to stubble burning. These solutions should not only protect the environment but also ensure the well-being of the agricultural community.

Parminder Singh Sodhi

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