There have been at least 117 incidents of stubble burning in Punjab in just two days, as the first phase of harvesting of paddy, primarily of the basmati varieties, started in the state, the Hindustan Times reported on Wednesday. The Punjab Remote Sensing Centre in Ludhiana detected 55 farm fires on Monday and 62 on Tuesday.

Of these, the Amritsar region itself saw 79 incidents of farm fires, whereas Tarn Taran reported 22 such incidents. A couple of cases each were detected in Kapurthala, SAS Nagar, Sangrur and Moga districts of the state.

Nearly 43,000 stubble burning cases were reported during the paddy harvesting season last year. Stubble burning is regarded as a major reason for increasing levels of pollution in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and the National Capital Region.

Around 29 lakh hectares of paddy land is under harvesting in Punjab this year. The main paddy harvesting season will start in October. The Congress government in the state has been trying to make farmers aware of the problem of stubble burning, and is providing farm equipment at subsidised rates.

“We have held meetings with vice-chancellors of five universities in the state and will make farmers aware through the National Service Scheme volunteers,” Punjab Pollution Control Board Chairperson Satwinder Singh Marwaha said. “We will form 5,000-6,000 groups of students who will visit the villages and urge farmers to shun stubble burning and educate them on its adverse consequences to the soil. We will not impose any fine as per the High Court orders.”

Punjab Agriculture Department Director Sutanter Kumar Airi said: “We have been making the farmers aware through publicity and by organising seminars. “Around 28,000 crop residue management machines worth Rs 400 crore were given to farmers last year and expected to give as many machines this year too.”

The National Green Tribunal had last year asked the Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh governments to take immediate steps to prevent crop residue burning. National Green Tribunal chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel ordered the states to help financially weak farmers by providing them with access to machinery instead and suggested that industries help through their corporate social responsibility programmes.

In December 2017, the National Green Tribunal had criticised the Punjab government for not taking effective steps to curb stubble burning in the state. Schools and colleges were closed for a week. Pollution had risen to dangerous levels in 2016 as well.

Punjab chief minister writes to Modi

Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday seeking cost compensation of Rs 100 per quintal of paddy to motivate farmers to stop burning residue, IANS reported. Singh said in his letter that farmers could use the money to meet the cost of managing paddy straw.

Noting that harvesting has already begun, the chief minister said farmers will have to manage nearly 2 crore tonnes of paddy straw again this year. While 28,000 crop residue management machines have been supplied, another 26,000 are being provided to the farmers, Singh said in his letter to Modi. He said the additional cost of using the machines was Rs 2,500 to Rs 3,000 per acre, which the farmers cannot afford.

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