Editor’s Note: Late sowing, lack of government incentive to remove stubble mechanically have often led farmers in Punjab and Haryana to burn paddy stubble during autumn to immediately prepare the fields for wheat cultivation. Consequently, the stubble burning occurs on such a huge scale that it even engulfs Delhi in a canopy of smog: thus causing serious pollution for days and health issues. In this three-part series, Firstpost seeks to find out why stubble is still burnt despite obvious ill-effects and a solution, if possible. This is the third and the final part of the series.
Rohtak: When it comes to curbing the menace of stubble-burning in Delhi’s neighbouring states, Haryana seems better prepared to handle the issue than Punjab. With only a week left for the peak paddy harvest season in Haryana, NGOs and villagers in some of the districts have taken novel steps to dispose off the paddy straw residue in an eco-friendly way, rather than just burning it – as is the practice in many other districts of the state and even across Punjab.
Farmers employ unique ideas to get rid of paddy stubble
In Rohtak’s Maina and Pahrawar villages, farmers claim that they have done away with stubble-burning in the last two years. “A group of panchayat members remain vigilant and have made farmers aware of the toxic hazards of the practice. The Panchayat members have also provided them with an alternative at their doorstep,” says Vikram Panghal, a social activist.
The villagers arrange for tractor-trollies and labourers to collect paddy stubble from the fields and sell it to local gaushalas, where the straw is chopped and used as cattle feed.
Meanwhile, in Sirsa district, the paddy residue has turned into an opportunity to mint money. When the paddy season is round the corner, 45-year-old Amrik Singh, a labourer from Sirsa’s Chakraiyan village, gets himself ready for brisk business.
He first collects the paddy straw and assembles it at one place. “The farmers are happy to get the stubble cleared in lieu of money and we get paddy stalk to make ropes,” he explains. The average earnings vary between Rs 30,000 and 50,000 per acre from the crop residue. Singh adds that the straw must be dry for them to make ropes, which are later sold to farmers and used to tie bales of wheat round the season.
Hari Ram, another farmer, says rope-making is a craft that is passed down in his family through generations. He learnt from his father, who in turn was taught by his parents. “We are landless labourers who do the work of chopping up the crops in fields. Later we pick up the stubble for animal feed and for making ropes,” he adds.
In the past, paddy farmers used to give away the stubble stalk for free but now they have started charging some money for it, after seeing how it is used to make profit by the labourers.
NGOs pitch in
National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), in collaboration with JBNR Trust, successfully tested a pilot project last year in Barna cluster of the state’s Kurukshetra district. They have now extended their programme, which entails training farmers in more eco-friendly practices, to nine other Haryana districts – Sonipat, Panipat, Yamuna Nagar, Ambala, Karnal, Kaithal, Sirsa, Jind and Fatehabad.
As part of the programme, Vikram Ahuja, who heads the operations, said farming equipment such as Happy Seeders, mulchers, reversible ploughs, rakes and balers was made available at the village-level to give farmers ready options to move their paddy stubble.
“It was a pilot study in which an intensive training, demonstration and implementation programme was made available to the farmers through the months of September to December 2017,” Ahuja says.
“They could either choose to make bales from paddy straw. Or they could opt for in-situ sowing of wheat in the standing paddy stubble. It resulted in zero straw burning in Barna cluster,” he explains.
Sharing his experience, he said that at several places, the farmers had initially refused to take an oath at the end of the session that they would not burn their paddy stubble. The response initially shocked the team as the farmers were arguing that they did not have the required machines to be able to properly clear the fields.
Eco-friendly move yet to penetrate all of Haryana
The lack of cheap machines remains an obstacle for many farmers in Haryana. Though the state government has frequently claimed to have taken sufficient measures to counter the stubble-burning, many paddy-growers at the grassroots level have a different tale to tell.
Ramesh Kumar Sharma, 44, a farmer from Naagar village near Gohana of Sonipat district, insists he would once again be forced to set his paddy residue on fire.
According to him, he had sown paddy on 18 acres of land. However, crop on almost three acres of land was flattened a fortnight ago when rain lashed Haryana. He is now left with only 15 acres of standing crop.
“Just after the harvest of paddy, sowing season for wheat starts and labourers need the fields empty. Burning is the only option left to get rid of the paddy stubble swiftly,” he says, adding that not just him but all his counterparts plan to replicate the same in the absence of support from the government.
Bijender Kumar, who works as a labourer in paddy fields, revealed that farmers pay him and others like him to chop and dump all the paddy straw at one place to set it on fire.
He says that while they all are aware that stubble-burning is harmful for the environment, it will cost the farmer another Rs 2,000 to get the residue removed from the field, loaded and carted off to the market.
Manjeet Singh, from a village on the Rohtak-Rewari national highway, blamed the lack of farming machines that would have made the removal of residue easier and eco-friendly.
Alleging favouritism on the part of the agriculture department, Singh, who has paddy fields on 13 acres, said he had approached officials to avail the machines at a subsidised cost, but was turned away. “We were told to form groups and come in order to get the machines, while individual subsidies were given to the handpicked farmers,” he alleges.
The author is Rohtak-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com.