Chandigarh: A report by the Indian Agriculture Research Institute, an institute under the Union agriculture and farmers’ welfare ministry has it that Punjab has reported 21,382 fewer stubble burning cases this year compared to last year.
The satellite monitoring of stubble fires is officially conducted every year between September 15 and November 30.
As per the final tally as on November 30, total burning cases in the state was 49,922 against 71,304 cases in 2021, meaning that there was an almost 30% drop in cases.
The Aam Aadmi Party government in the state has attributed the dip in numbers to its good work.
Efforts of CM Bhagwant Mann are slowly showing results. We hope by next year, we shud see substantial redn in farm fires. pic.twitter.com/uSMgDjS8Nc
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) November 29, 2022
However, there is more to it as despite the alleged drop in numbers, there has been no major change in the paddy residue burnt area, government data shows.
According to figures obtained from Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB), which keeps track of both stubble fire incidents and burnt acreage with help of Punjab Remote Sensing Centre in Ludhiana, total burnt area this season in Punjab as on November 27, 2022 was 15.29 lakh hectares against 15.47 lakh hectares in 2021.
Across Punjab around 30.29 lakh hectares saw paddy cultivation, including that of Basmati rice, this year. Out of this, more than 50% saw stubble fires according to government figures.
Krunesh Garg, member secretary of PPCB, who shared the above figures with The Wire, said that there appears to be no major decrease in the burnt area despite the stated dip in stubble fire incidents.
“One has to wait for the final analysis, which will take a few days,” Garg says.
Garg had earlier told The Wire that the stress is always on reducing the burnt area and not the incident of fires because if the former does not show significant reduction then the problem of managing air pollution cannot be dealt with effectively.
Officials in the Punjab agriculture department however told The Wire that the department had raised objections against the data of stubble burnings recorded by Punjab Remote Sensing Centre during a review meeting held in Chandigarh in the last week of November. But officials representing PRSC during the meeting maintained that their protocol, use of software and the data recording were all strictly based on the Union agriculture ministry’s directions, sources in the department said.
PRSC ruled out any modification or review of the statistics it shared with both the Punjab government and Punjab Pollution Control Board, added sources.
Dr Anil Sood of PRSC did not respond to The Wire‘s questions. Consequently, The Wire could not ascertain why authorities felt that the numbers have dropped in spite of no significant change on the ground. A source from PPCB suggested that it could be because cloud cover hampers satellite monitoring of fires, thus leading to fewer fires being recorded during cloudier days.
Gurvinder Singh, director of the Punjab agriculture department, told The Wire that it was hard to digest that there was no major drop in the burnt area despite the 30% fall in cases.
“But we are moving forward now. Our target is to make a visible change next year for which we will take several steps in advance,” he said.
Punjab, as per IARI data, recorded the peak in stubble fire numbers in the first week of November.
It was around this time that the air quality index in Delhi and cities around the national capital deteriorated to a the ‘severe’ category, forcing it to shut down schools for five days between November 4 and November 8.
On November 4, Aam Aadmi Party supremo and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal held a press conference along with his Punjab counterpart Bhagwant Mann and took responsibility for stubble fires in his party ruled state.
Promising to control the situation next year, Kejriwal had said that his party formed a government in Punjab only six months ago and had had little time check pollution-causing agricultural practices.
New Delhi yesterday, December 5, was engulfed in thick smog as cooler weather exacerbated pollution, prompting authorities to stop construction work.
Haryana example cited to bring change in Punjab
Ramandeep Singh Mann, an agriculture policy expert, told The Wire that the example of Haryana needed to be cited if Punjab wanted visible change in its stubble burning practice.
Haryana, as per IARI data, recorded 47% less cases, 3,661 incidents of stubble burning compared to 6,987 last year.
According to Mann, one of the main reasons for drop in Haryana fires is that it provided an incentive of Rs 1,000 per acre to those farmers who do not burn stubble.
He said several field surveys have time and again revealed that farmers are unable to bear the operating cost of managing stubble. Subsidised machines on which the Union government spent hundreds of crores only ended up increasing their input cost.
“It is high time that the Punjab government come up with a cash incentive scheme to stop farmers from burning stubble. Otherwise, the current solutions are not much effective in dealing with the annual problem,” said Mann.
Meanwhile, after Punjab, it was Madhya Pradesh, which was the next major hotspot for stubble fires. With 11,737 cases against 8,160 in 2021, MP recorded 43% more stubble burning this season.
Overall, IARI recorded a total of 69,615 burning events between September 15, 2022 and November 30, 2022 in six states – Punjab (49,922), MP (11,737), Haryana (3,661), Uttar Pradesh (3,017) Rajasthan (1,268) and Delhi (12).