Punjab: In AAP backyard, a burning problem

Raakhi Jagga
As of November 15, a total of 48,780 stubble burning incidents had been reported in Punjab. Of this 6,558 were recorded in Sangrur alone. That’s a whopping 13 per cent.

As the farm fire season in the post-paddy harvesting period nears its end, Sangrur district in Punjab has emerged as the biggest offender.

As of November 15, a total of 48,780 stubble burning incidents had been reported in Punjab. Of this 6,558 were recorded in Sangrur alone. That’s a whopping 13 per cent.

With even Supreme Court observing that stubble burning contributes to around 44 per cent of the total pollution in the National Capital, Aam Aadmi Party convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has repeatedly blamed the governments in Punjab and Haryana of not doing enough to control the farm fires.

Incidentally, Sangrur is represented in the Lok Sabha by Bhagwant Mann, the AAP’s lone MP. Mann is also the AAP state president. Of the nine Assembly segments that comprise Sangrur parliamentary constituency, five are represented by the AAP.

The Sangrur parliamentary constituency also has Vidhan Sabha segments from Barnala, the district that has recorded 3,033 farm fire incidents.

Apart from the dubious first rank that Sangrur holds so far as farm fire incidents are concerned, the district hold another top rank: Environmental compensation (EC) amounting to a total of Rs 1.08 crore has been imposed on the errant farmers of the district. This is 22.5 per cent of the total EC of Rs 4.80 crore imposed on the farmers across the state.

A total of 340 FIRs had been lodged against farmers in Sangrur till November 14 out of which 101 were under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and the remaining under Section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) of IPC. This totals to nearly 16.44 per cent of the total 2,067 FIRs lodged against the farmers in Punjab.

In Barnala, 85 FIRs have been lodged under Section 188 of IPC and EC amounting to Rs 16.05 lakh has been imposed on farmers who burnt the paddy stubble despite there being a ban on it.

Earlier, squarely blaming stubble burning in the neighbouring states for the ongoing smog crisis in the national capital, Kejriwal had demanded specific timelines from the Haryana and Punjab governments on stopping farm fires. “They must also be answerable for their actions,” he had said, adding that the people of Delhi are “fed up with pollution”.

While Mann was not available for comments, Leader of Opposition and AAP MLA from Dirba (which falls in Sangrur), Harpal Singh Cheema blamed the state government for the high number of stubble burning incidents.

“The state government was too late in announcing Rs 2,500-per acre as compensation to farmers for managing the stubble in environment friendly manner. Even now, it is not sure whether the farmers would actually get any compensation. Neither the state government, nor the Centre is keen on doing anything to stop crop residue burning,” Cheema said.

Earlier, lashing out at the Chief Secretaries of Punjab, Haryana and UP for not doing enough to prevent crop residue burning, the Supreme Court on November 6 had asked the three states to pay Rs 100 per quintal of crop as incentive to paddy farmers who have not burnt stubble on their fields.

On Friday, the Punjab government had said it disbursed over Rs 19 crore at the rate of Rs 2,500 per acre to 29,343 non-basmati paddy cultivating small and marginal farmers from across the state, who have not burned the paddy residue.

Agriculture Secretary Kahan Singh Pannu also said that 85,000 applications have been received from farmers till date seeking compensation. The last date for submission of these applications is November 30.

Reminded that AAP convenor has repeatedly been blaming stubble burning as one of the major reasons behind pollution in Delhi and that Sangrur tops the districts in Punjab in number if farm fires, Cheema said, “We (the AAP MLAs) tried to make people aware that stubble can be used for many purposes. The main issue is collecting the stubble from fields. It is time consuming and involves expenditure. What can the AAP MLAs do when there is a Congress government in the state? They (government) are responsible for providing machinery and equipment (to manage stubble) to farmers, which they did not.”

In the same breath he went on to add that “this year farm fires seem to have reduced compared to last year.

On being told that the numbers are nearly same, he said, “Farmers need to be enrolled.”

In all, the total stubble burning incidents between September 23 and November 15 in Punjab were 48,780, as compared to 46,545 in corresponding period last year.

Meanwhile, with 5,521 farm fires, Bathinda district closely follows Sangrur. Bathinda is considered state Finance Minister Manpreet Badal’s district. The Bathinda Parliamentary constituency, however, is represented by Shiromani Akali Dal leader and Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal.

Manpreet Badal claimed that he repeatedly appealed to the farmers not to burn stubble and keep environment clean as a tribute to Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism.

Ferozepur district with 4,526 stubble burning incidents and Patiala with 3,896 is ranked number three and four, respectively. Ferozepur is represented in the Lok Sabha by SAD president Sukhbir Badal, while Patiala is Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh’s home district. Patiala Parliamentary constituency is also represented by Amarinder’s wife Preneet Kaur.

In Bathinda, 119 FIRs under Section 188 of IPC have been lodged against farmers with a cumulative EC pf Rs 41.9 lakh while in Patiala, 117 FIRs, inclding 20 under Air Act, have been lodged and an EC of Rs 84 lakh imposed.

Meanwhile, as the incidents of farm fires are reducing - only 91 were reported Friday - the administration now has a new problem staring at them. The farmers have refused to shell out the penalty in the form of EC imposed on them.

Farmer leader Manjeet Singh Dhaner Friday said the farm bodies’ next movement is against the FIRs lodged against farmers in stubble burning cases. The farm unions want both the FIRs and the EC nullified.