Punjab’s agriculture minister Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal announced the decision days after a joint proposal by the two states of giving ₹2,500 per acre to paddy growers for not burning crop residue was rejected by the Centre.
The Punjab and Delhi governments have dropped a plan to pay a cash incentive to farmers in the northern state for not burning paddy stubble during the winter harvest — one of principal reasons for an annual pollution crisis in the national capital and its surrounding areas.
The state’s agriculture minister Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal announced the decision days after a joint proposal by the two states of giving ₹2,500 per acre to paddy growers for not burning crop residue was rejected by the Centre. Though the proposal had called for ₹1,500 per acre from the Centre’s kitty and ₹500 each from Punjab and Delhi, HT reported last week that the two states still intended to push through with their share of the payments.
“How can we pay when the Centre is not giving?” the minister said on Thursday in response to a question on the cash incentive scheme.
To be sure, Punjab is facing severe financial stress, and has directed its senior officials to cut wasteful expenditure.
Responses from the Delhi government and the Centre were not immediately available.
According to the joint proposal, the governments of Punjab and Delhi were to make contributions of ₹375 crore each and they sought an outlay of ₹1,125 crore from the Centre, taking the total to ₹1,875 crore, officials said. “We (Punjab and Delhi governments) made a project for the larger benefit of the farmers but the Centre rejected it,” he said. “But the Punjab government is giving sufficient number of subsidised machines to the farmers for in-situ management of paddy stubble and also persuading them not to burn the crop residue,” he added.
According to Dhaliwal, the total expenditure on subsidised machines will be ₹452 crore and 32,100 different types of machines will be given to the farmers.
Meanwhile, under an alternative plan, Delhi and Punjab have joined hands to use Pusa bio-decomposer – a microbial solution that can decompose paddy straw in 15 to 20 days – on 5,000 acres of land in the agrarian state to prevent stubble burning, which is a major cause of air pollution.
As part of a pilot project to be implemented with the help of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), the bio-decomposer will be sprayed over 5,000 acres or 2,023 hectares of land in Punjab. This year, the total area under paddy cultivation in Punjab is pegged at 29-30 lakh hectares. The state, on average, generates around 20 million tonne of paddy straw annually.
“Joint meeting with Punjab Agriculture Minister Kuldeep Dhaliwal ji and officials of IARI Pusa regarding stubble pollution. Free spraying of bio-decomposer will be done in some areas of Punjab as a pilot project this year under the supervision of IARI,” Delhi environment minister Gopal Rai tweeted.
The decision was taken after a joint coordination meeting between Rai, Dhaliwal and experts from IARI, Pusa.
“We knew this was going to happen sooner or later,” said Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) president Balbir Singh Rajewal, adding that the AAP government made big promises but later backtracked.
Rai said that paddy is cultivated in very few areas of Delhi, where the bio-decomposer was used last year to prevent pollution from stubble burning in Delhi. “The process resulted in the decomposition of stubble and resulted in an increase in soil’s fertility. The Delhi government will once again spray bio-decomposer on paddy fields this year.”
Most farmers burn the residue because it is a quick and cheap way to clear the fields for the sowing of rabi season wheat crop, for which the window is often very short. The result is that Delhi and its surrounding areas report hazardous levels of air pollution.
With HTC inputs from New Delhi