Punjab has recorded around 74,000 incidents of stubble burning this season, the maximum in four years, data released by the Punjab Remote Sensing Centre showed. Experts believe this is a direct fallout of the government’s three new agricultural laws that have been at the center of protests in the state for months, reported PTI.

The state recorded 73,883 incidents of burning of stubble between September 21 and November 14, which is the highest since 2016. Punjab had reported 51,048 agricultural fires in the corresponding period last year, and 46,559 such incidents in 2018. The number of farm fires was 43,149 in the state during the same period in 2017.

Every year, farmers are criticised for causing the worst air pollution in Delhi because of the burning of stubbles in fields. In neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab, they traditionally resort to the method during the months of October and November as a cheap way of clearing their fields after harvesting the crops. Despite a ban on stubble burning, farmers say they have no choice but to set fire to the crop residue as they cannot afford any delay in getting their fields clear before sowing the next crop.

Besides, even though the Punjab government offers subsidies for farm equipment to dispose of the crop residue, farmers say the expensive machines have remained out of reach for most.

According to the Ministry of Earth Sciences’ air quality monitor, SAFAR, the share of stubble burning in Delhi-National Capital Region’s pollution peaked to 42% on November 5, when 4,135 farm fires were recorded in the region.

“It was a bumper harvest this year, so the amount of crop residue was also large, an official from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute told PTI. “Also, it was a cloud-free season as compared to last year. The biomass was drier and prone to burning.”

It is notable to mention that this year’s record pollution has also been aggravated by smog from fireworks, despite a complete ban on the sale and use of crackers.

A farmer burns the stubble in a rice field in Zirakpur in Punjab, on October 10, 2018. [Credit: Adan Abidi/ Reuters)

However, experts believe that the record increase in stubble burning this year is a result of growing anger among farmers over the contentious new agriculture laws. “It appears that the farmers are not willing to cooperate,” the official from Indian Agricultural Research Institute said. “There could be anger over farm bills.”

Harinder Singh Lakhowal, the general secretary of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, Punjab, also said the number of farm fires is “very high this year and anger over farm bills is one of the major reasons”. “Unavailability of labourers – many returned to their native states due to the Covid-19 pandemic – is also a reason why farmers are burning stubble to clear the fields quickly,” he told PTI.

An unidentified official of the Punjab government told the news agency that “farmers are not happy” as the ruling dispensation has not disbursed the financial incentive to them as directed by the Supreme Court last year to prevent stubble burning.

Haryana and Uttar Pradesh

However, the IARI official said the increase in the number of incidents of stubble burning does not mean “that the policy of providing farm equipment for in-situ management of crop residue has failed”.

“The numbers of stubble burning incidents in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh tell a different story altogether,” he said. “The figures have come down significantly.”

According to IARI’s data, Haryana recorded 4,699 farm fires between October 1 and November 12 ,while Uttar Pradesh reported 2,288 such incidents during the period, which is the lowest in both the states in the last five yearss

“In Punjab also, the number of cases was reducing every year till 2019,” the expert added. “Only 2020 has been the ‘odd’ year out.”