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Punjab, Delhi plan cash incentive for farmers in border state to stop stubble burning

New Delhi,  The Aam Aadmi Party governments in Punjab and Delhi plan to provide cash incentive to farmers in the border state for not burning stubble and have requested the Centre to share the cost, officials said.  Paddy straw burning in Punjab and Haryana is a major reason behind the alarming spike in air pollution levels in the national capital in October and November. Farmers set their fields on fire to quickly clear off the crop residue before cultivating wheat and potato.  Punjab generates around 20 million tons of paddy straw annually.

“We have prepared a proposal to provide a cash incentive to farmers who desist from burning paddy straw. The plan is that the Centre should bear 50 per cent of the cost and Punjab and Delhi will contribute 25 per cent each,” a senior Punjab government official said.

Delhi will share the cost since smoke from farm fires impact air quality in the national capital,” he said.

“The proposal has been sent to the Centre. Once it is approved, it will be tabled before the Punjab cabinet,” the official said.

He said the Punjab and Delhi governments will implement the scheme even if the Centre doesn’t agree. Under a Centre-sponsored scheme, farm machinery is provided to farmers at a subsidised rate for in-situ management of the stubble. Farmers say a cash incentive can help them cover the cost of fuel used in operating the machinery, another official told PTI.

He said the government proposes to give Rs 2,500 per acre to farmers to wean them away from stubble burning.

This is not the first time Punjab will give cash incentives to farmers for not burning stubble.  The governments of Punjab and Haryana had announced a bonus of Rs 2,500 an acre for small and marginal farmers in 2019 too, following the Supreme Court’s suggestion to incentivise farmers to stop farm fires.

However, a paucity of funds stalled the scheme. Only a few thousand farmers could avail the benefit.

The Punjab government had even requested the Centre for financial assistance but to no avail.

The erstwhile Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority had told the apex court that “incentive should not be given to stop people from doing something bad”.

Farmers can be incentivised in different ways by giving free machinery or buying stubble from them. An incentive for not burning stubble is a perverse incentive, it had said.

In an interview to PTI recently, Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai had said the AAP government in Punjab is definitely going to bring a positive change, though it may take some time to bring the number of farm fires to zero.

According to the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Punjab had reported 71,304 farm fires between September 15 and November 30 last year and 83,002 farm fires in the corresponding period in 2020.

Last year, the share of farm fires in Delhi’s PM 2.5 pollution had peaked to 48 per cent on November 7.

According to an analysis by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), people in the national capital breathe the worst air between November 1 and November 15 every year, as unhelpful meteorological conditions trap pollutants from local sources and stubble burning in neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana. PTI