The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Wednesday asked senior Punjab government officials to confer with farmers and decide on the aid needed to stop stubble burning.
The tribunal’s directions came during the hearing of a petition filed by environmentalist Vikrant Tongad, who in 2013 had raised the issue of stubble burning in states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan.
Over 100 farmers had gathered outside the National Green Tribunal for the hearing on Wednesday. They said they had been living under the fear of action by state governments ever since the tribunal banned stubble burning in 2015. “Today, we told the bench our side of the story. It has now asked the officials to decide how the government will help in terms of machinery and operation costs. They will have to submit the plan on October 11,” said Balveer Singh Rajaval of the Punjab Kisan Union.
Read: Expect pay cuts if stubble burning goes on, says NGT
Crop residue is usually set afire due to cost concerns and short time gap between summer and winter crops, besides lack of incentives and equipment to manually cut down the stubble. Agricultural stubble running into millions of tonnes is burnt by farmers in northern India every October, before the onset of winter. An estimated 35 million tonnes are set afire in Punjab and Haryana alone to make room for winter crop.
On Tuesday, the Punjab government sought Rs 2,000 crore from the Union government for farmers so that they can remove paddy straw without burning it. The demand was raised by Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh at a meeting with Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh.
“We have about 20 million tonnes of paddy straw. Who will use it? We have demanded that the Centre give Rs 100 per quintal, which comes to roughly Rs 2,000 crore,” the Punjab CM told reporters after the meeting.
As the central government fixes the minimum support price of paddy, it is its responsibility to address the issue of paddy straw, he said, adding that providing Rs 100 per quintal will help farmers to remove paddy straw without burning it.
Read: Now, red entry in land register for stubble burning; ban on loan may follow
The NGT had in November 2015 banned crop residue burning in five states — Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. The Delhi High Court had also directed the states to ensure the ban is enforced.
Experts say stubble burning accounts for anywhere between 12% to 60% of Delhi’s air pollution.
Though a recent National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) proposal to purchase agricultural residue from farmers had raised hope of a less-polluted winter this year, authorities are doubtful if a business module can be developed within such a short span of time.
The next date of hearing in the case by NGT is on October 11.