#Punjab: Clearing stubble is too expensive for farmers and a company hired to do it has left them in the lurch

Meanwhile, the judiciary has asked states to file a compliance report on compensating farmers.

ByPrabhjit Singh
#Punjab: Clearing stubble is too expensive for farmers and a company hired to do it has left them in the lurch
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Delhi’s AQI came down to a face-saving 201 on November 19 from last month’s severe category of over 400. However, the problem is likely to come up next year too with another spree of the paddy stubble burning in Punjab and adjoining Haryana. 

Why is this happening?

In a random check for answers from a field some 300 kilometres away from the national capital, Newslaundry found huge stocks of stubble for stubble bales, each measuring 6 quintals (600 kg). They were piled up over the 22-acre site of a much-awaited biomass energy unit at Mehma Sarja village near Bathinda in Punjab. 

The unit was to be set up by Neyway Renewable Energy Private Ltd.

And these stocks of the residue bales can be seen across the state, amidst long promises made by the state authorities that the farmers would be logistically facilitated in managing the stubble.

“We are not fond of these fires, and nobody is talking about why we burn the stubble, keeping our own health at risk,” said Ranjit Singh, a farmer in Mehma Sarja village. He explains the economy: “I have to spend Rs 6,000 on diesel alone (for running the tractor) to plough the earth for mixing the stubble in soil only.”

Farmers and their families became the first victims of burning stubble, developing health issues like asthma.

Diesel for seven acres means an expense of Rs 42,000. And that is why the kisan unions are protesting to be permitted to burn the stubble instead.

Ranjit pointed at huge stocks of stubble bales at the 22-acre project site, several rotting for over a year. Many bales, each weighing 800 kg with a diameter of 1.8, were also spotted unlifted from the surrounding fields.

“I had to burn one bale lying in my field yesterday for the wheat sowing process,” said Naseeb Singh, a farmer from Gill Patti village. 

The farming families, in fact, became the first victims as asthmatic patients, after burning the stubble in their own fields.  

Naseeb Singh’s assertions must be viewed in the backdrop of the endless debates on primetime news on the issue of stubble burning affecting Delhi. Cities like Ludhiana and Panipat, or smaller cities like Bathinda and Sangrur, were not even named for being the first victims of the hazardous smog due to the menace in the surrounding fields. On the morning of November 21, Rohtak and Hisar in Haryana recorded an AQI of 316 and 365, respectively.

Who will clear the stubble?

Neyway Renewable Energy Private Ltd is a Chennai-based company. In November 2017, it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Punjab government “to set up processing plants in 400 cluster points for paddy straw with a proposed investment of Rs 10,000 crore and potential direct employment of 30,000 persons”. The project was to be executed from July 18, 2018.

However, not a single unit has come up for the commissioning of the biomass energy (to produce bio coal, fodder pillets and fire briquettes) — all of which was detailed in the Memorandum of Understanding.

Neyway Renewable Energy Private Ltd had acquired 22 acres of the Mehma Sarja village panchayat land for such a unit on a 33-year lease at a yearly payment of Rs 45,500 with 10 per cent annual increase. With two paddy harvest seasons gone, the huge stocks of the residue is spread over these 22 acres. Once again, the farmers are left in the lurch as the rolls of 6 quintals each are yet to be picked up from their fields by the Neyway workforce.

Huge stocks of stubble bale dot the 22-acre project site.

Mustaq Ahmed, the chief executive officer of Neyway Renewable Energy Private Ltd, told this correspondent they have their own reasons for the delay in the project’s commissioning. Patenting of the technology, he said, was still to be attained. “We started with the process last year only and then had to deviate from the mediocre collection process from the small cuboidal of 25 kg to the large 1.8-metre diameter of bales each weighing 800 kg.”

He added: “We are collecting in multiple areas, with a full throttle collection process this year, as the demand is increasing.”   

What the Supreme Court says

In a November 6 order, the apex court heard the matter for three-and-a-half hours after which it observed in its interim order: “As projected by the chief secretary (of Punjab) that the government is not able to provide financial support to these small and marginal farmers, cannot be accepted.”

The court further observed: “It appears that most of the farmers burning stubble are of the category of small and marginal farmers in the state of Punjab and the cooperative societies give the machines on hire basis, which cannot be afforded by the small and marginal farmers.” The court’s comments followed a prolonged hearing that went on till 7 pm and which had mainly included the submissions of the Bharti Kisan Union-Kadian’s standing counsel, Charanpal Singh Bagria.   

Farmers have long been promised they will be logistically facilitated in managing the stubble.

The bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta had also directed the state government to pay a compensation of Rs 100 for managing per quintal of paddy stubble to prevent its burning, as decided by the high-power joint sub-committee on the issue. Paddy harvest on an acre leaves behind 22 quintals of residue (stubble), as per the Punjab government’s submission in the court. 

The Punjab chief secretary was also asked to file a compliance report as per the direction within a week. The next date of hearing is November 25.

The November 6 observations were actually a turning point in the case hearing. Earlier, on November 4, the court had directed the states: “If it is found that any stubble burning has been made, not only that person doing it will be hauled up for the violation of the order passed by this court, but the entire administration, right from the chief secretary, commissioner, and all other concerned functionaries and Panchayats.” The court had also directed police intervention for stern action against culprits for stubble burning.

In the last hearing on November 15, the Central Pollution Control Board submitted in the court that “pollution caused due to stubble burning has been reduced to approximately 5 per cent, however, residue remains of the previous stubble burning that is also adding to the pollution”. 

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