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Playing out in Punjab, cat and mouse game between farmers, govt officials

Playing out in Punjab, cat and mouse game between farmers, govt officials

While the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) had imposed environmental compensation (read fine) on 4,954 sites, the green compensation is yet to be imposed in 2,742 farm fire cases for want of verification of the field owners

Satellite image data shows that Punjab has recorded 34,868 stubble burning incidents to date, including 1,778 farm fires on November 9. However, on physical verification, only 36% of the farm fires could be verified by the teams formed by the Punjab government. Why there is a huge discrepancy between these two sets of figures? Well, the answer lies in farmers learning ways to cover their back. After burning stubble, they leave no trail for the inspecting teams to follow up, thus avoiding any action against them.

Till November 8, a total of 33,090 stubble burning incidents were recorded by satellite as per the report of Punjab Remote Sensing Centre (PRSC), Ludhiana. Of these, 21,195 sites were visited by the sub-division teams for physical verification of the field fires.

But out of these 21,195 farm fire incidents, the burning of stubble could be found only on 7,696 sites (36%), while on 13,383 sites (around 64%) no traces of fire could be found. While the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) had imposed environmental compensation (read fine) on 4,954 sites, the green compensation is yet to be imposed in 2,742 farm fire cases for want of verification of the field owners.

The only action the government takes against erring farmers (those involved in stubble burning) is – levying a nominal fine and making a ‘red entry’ of their land in the land records. An ‘environmental compensation’ (EC) of Rs 2,500 (minimum) to Rs 15,000 (maximum) has been fixed for fields set on fire.

Physical verification of the field (where the stubble was supposedly burned) is mandatory before levying the EC.
At every sub-divisional level, teams have been formed in every district of the state which have to verify the recorded farm fire incidents after a physical visit to the place within 48 hours of the recording of the field fires by satellite.

What happens after the stubble is burned?

Well, the entire field turns black and one can easily gauge from a distance that some crop residue was burned in the field.

What farmers are doing to escape the clutches of law?

They plough the field quickly after the farm fire settles down. Because of ploughing, the entire blackness gets mixed in the soil and one can’t make out if it was due to fire, or some cow dung manure/vermicompost, which is usually dark in colour, had got mixed in the soil.

Sources in PPCB say that by the time the verification team reaches the spot, the farmers would have already ploughed the field.

And even if the team tries to gather some evidence, which is no doubt available on the sides of the fields, the farmers do not own up. Instead they argue with the team members, and at times, the farmers even hold them hostage.

“To avoid any confrontation, the teams do not record the ‘farm fire incidents’ on the already-ploughed fields,” a senior officer in the Punjab Agriculture Department said, adding that the satellite images and burnt areas reveal the truth.

A visit to several villages in Doaba had the same story to tell.

“I have kept my tractor ready to plough the field immediately after the stubble fire gets settled down,” says Amandeep Singh, a farmer from Gohir village (Jalandhar disrict) who set the stubble on his 28 acres of land afire.

“They (team) will levy Rs 15,000 fine if I don’t plough the field to mix the ash with the soil before their arrival. Every farmer in my village who is into stubble burning follows the same practice,” he adds.

Gurmail Singh, former sarpanch of Dhadda village, says that majority of farmers are following this practice in his village and the surrounding villages.

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