With measures like seizing unauthorised farm equipment to imposing fines failing to check incidents of stubble burning, the Uttar Pradesh government is mulling over taking stringent legal penal actions, including lodging FIRs against the offenders.
Though awareness campaigns regarding those highlighting the harms of stubble burning were held, they did not show better results.
According to the data of Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), which is also used by the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB), close to 800 different fire farm incidents were reported in the last fortnight from 18 districts.
These comprise Aligarh, Barabanki, Fatehpur, Kanpur Nagar, Mathura, Hardoi, Sambhal, Ghaziabad, Gautam Buddh Nagar, Meerut, Saharanpur, Rampur, Lakhimpur Kheri, Pilibhit, Shahjahanpur, Bulandshahr, Shamli and Bareilly districts.
While the government is urging farmers to adopt alternative means to dispose of stubble, the growers claim that the suggested measures are “impractical”.
Gurupal Singh, a farmer of Powayan in Shahjahanpur, said, “The easiest way for us to dispose of stubble is to burn them. Other measures like uprooting them with special equipment, spraying biochemicals etc are labour intensive that cost money.
“This also needs to be done quickly to prepare the field for the next crop. In such a case, poor farmers like me are left with no option but to burn the stubble,” he said.
Singh said he was penalised for stubble burning in 2019.
Apart from holding awareness campaigns, the district administration is also slapping such farmers with fines.
In Rampur, the district administration has imposed a fine of Rs 55,000 on different farmers across the district for stubble burning in a week.
According to district officials, Rs 32,500 of this have been collected as fine so far.
Similarly, in Fatehpur district, the administration has collected Rs 27,000 as fine from farmers involved in stubble burning.
The Fatehpur district administration has also seized 16 harvesters operating without the necessary equipment to reduce stubble waste.
According to the directives of the state government, for anyone caught burning agricultural residue or waste in fields in Uttar Pradesh, the fine is Rs 2,500 for fields less than two acres, Rs 5,000 for two-five acres and Rs 15,000 for fields above five acres.
Assistant Divisional Magistrate (Finance) of Bulandshahr, Vivek Kumar Mishra said, “Apart from fines, the farmers can face up to six months of imprisonment on repeat offences. We have intimated this to farmers in awareness camps held in the district. The village heads have been asked to remain vigilant and report any incident of stubble burning.” Bulandshahr in western Uttar Pradesh is one of the districts with the worst air quality in the state.
The district administration has organised more than two dozen awareness camps to educate farmers about harms of stubble burning. Teams have also been formed at tehsil level to present such incidents, said the officer.
The district administration has roped in village heads to prevent stubble burning.
District Magistrate of Sultanpur Raveesh Gupta said, “The village heads have been asked to lodge an FIR against anyone involved in stubble burning. The village heads have been asked to take a picture of the incident which is mandatory to lodge FIR.” Two farmers were fined Rs 2,500 each for stubble burning in the district on October 31. Similar action will be taken against anyone found burning stubble, he warned.
The recent action which indicates more stringent steps are on the anvil is in line with a government order issued to all divisional commissioners, district magistrates, and district police chiefs last month by the office of Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary Durga Shankar Mishra.
The top bureaucrat in his letter asked the officials to ensure legal penal action against farmers found burning crop residues, and also create awareness among them about the negative impact farm fires can have on the environment.
According to government sources, these legal penal actions also include lodging FIRs against repeat offenders of stubble burning.
The burning of crop residues and garbage is seen as a major cause of air pollution during winter. The air quality worsens every year in the October-November period when paddy harvesting is done.
These fire incidents are expected to spike in the coming days, agriculture scientists claim.
“The paddy cultivation in Uttar Pradesh was delayed by an average of 35 days this year because of poor and delayed monsoon. Because of this, the paddy harvest is expected to continue till the last week of November,” said Senior Scientist of Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) Shubham Singh.
The delay in harvest can be a troubling sign for the air quality if stubble-burning incidents continue, he said.
“The temperatures will drop further by the end of November as winter sets in. If stubble burning is done in such weather conditions, it will take smoke longer to settle down, keeping the air polluted for a longer period of time,” explained Singh.
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