Stubble burning has picked up pace in Punjab’s border belt of Majha, including Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Tarn Taran districts, where the harvest of paddy is on in full swing.
This year, crop residue burning is delayed as paddy harvest was behind schedule due to the late withdrawal of the monsoon.
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On October 13, a total of 132 events were captured by the satellite in Punjab. On the same day in 2019, 117 active fire events were captured, while there were 240 active fire events in the state on October 13, 2020.
According to the cumulative figure from September 15 to October 13, a total of 1,057 incidents took place this year, while 3,123 fields on fire were recorded during the corresponding period in 2020.
Of the 132 fire events recorded on Wednesday, Tarn Taran recorded 37 incidents, while Amritsar witnessed 26 farm fires.
Officials dither to act against farmers in protest mode
“Don’t expect that number of fire incidents to come down. It’s now an annual phenomenon, as in-situ utilisation of paddy straw is expensive, while there are only few takers for paddy straw bales in ex-situ management of the straw. Amid the ongoing farmers’ protest against the new farm laws, no official dare act against farmers. Officials are at the receiving end both from farmers and the government,” said a senior official of Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB), requesting anonymity.
PPCB experts said that the maximum number of fire incidents are expected from the last week of October till Diwali.
The Punjab Government has so far appointed 8,000 nodal officers in Punjab to check stubble burning.
“There is no viable solution for the management of paddy straw. If the government wants farmers to adopt in-situ or ex-situ management of paddy straw, it must pay ₹200 as incentive per quintal of paddy,” said Thakur Mann, a farmer of Patiala.
He said that farmer unions will oppose any punitive move by the government.
PPCB begins penalising defaulters
In Punjab, setting fire to a field of less than two acres attracts a fine of ₹2,500, while a penalty of ₹5,000 is imposed if the field is between two and five acres. If the field on fire is over five acres, then the fine shoots up to ₹15,000.
“The PPCB has started the process to identify farms where stubble burning has been identified by satellite and fines have been imposed,” said PPCB secretary Krunesh Garg.
Air quality in moderate range in Amritsar
Despite the farm fires, the air quality index (AQI) in the state is better than it was during the corresponding period in 2020. The AQI of Amritsar and Tarn Taran, where farm fires have started, is 150, which is in the moderate range.
The AQI measures particulate matter and four harmful gases that pollute the air and converts the measured pollutant concentrations in the air to a number on a scale of 0 to 500.
0-50 is good air quality with minimal impact on health; the 51-100 range is satisfactory but may cause minor breathing discomfort to sensitive people; 101-200 AQI is the moderate range that may cause breathing discomfort to people with lung and heart disease; 201-300 is poor quality air that causes breathing discomfort to most people on prolonged exposure. The 301-400 range is very poor AQI range that can cause respiratory illness on prolonged exposure; and 401-500 is the severe range that affects healthy people and seriously impacts those with existing diseases.