At a time when smog has blanketed large parts of north India and deteriorated air quality to alarming levels, biomass plants in the Malwa region are offering an alternative to farmers in managing paddy stubble.
It has been alleged that stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana is the major cause for the worsening air quality.
There are three private biomass plants in the region. In Muktsar district, the Malwa Biomass Plant operates in Gulabewala, while the Universal Biomass Plant at Channu village. Besides these, another biomass plant is operational in Gadda Dob village of Fazilka district.
Dinesh Bhardwaj, assistant manager of the biomass plant in Gulabewala said, “We have purchased 1.20 lakh tones of stubble this year and generate electricity by processing it. We are selling it to the power department at Rs 6 per unit. A total of 1.6 lakh units of power are being generated everyday at our power plant.”
Balers are used to collect stubble from the fields. The machine takes an hour to make bales out of straw in an acre field. On an average, one acre produces 12-15 quintal of bales, which are then sold to biomass plants between Rs 120 - Rs 130 per quintal.
A baler costs about Rs 13 lakh and the agriculture department is also providing subsidy. However, farmers have said that the relief amount is inadequate to meet the cost.
Since the machines are unaffordable, they are taking them on rent and pay between Rs 700 - Rs 1,000 per acre for it. Until last year, baler owners used to provide the service free of cost.
Meanwhile, biomass plant owners claim that there has been an increase in the quantity of stubble purchased by them this year. “In 2014, we purchased 39,000 ton stubble, whereas this year we have purchased 1 lakh ton so far,” said Narinder SinghBhullar, general manager of the biomass plant in Channu.
Senior agriculture officer of Fazilka, Beant Singh, said, “These plants can play a significant role in solving the problem of stubble burning and the resultant pollution. Farmers should be encouraged to make bales and manage paddy stubble. Besides, if compared with last year, the number of paddy stubble burning incidents was less this year.”
Gurnam Singh, a farmer from Sarainaga village said, “More biomass plants should be installed in the region for the benefit of farmers and the unemployed youth.”
However, Jagdev Singh Kaniawali, president of Muktsar unit of Bharti Kisan Union (Kadiyan), said, “The government is not serious about farmers’ problems. Those who manage paddy stubble without burning it should be provided suitable compensation. Baler owners are charging rent from the farmers. The service should be provided free of cost.”