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Warrior Mom, Samita Kaur from Punjab gives us an understanding of why farmers resort to stubble burning.

A mother of 2, Samita hails from rural Punjab and works towards spreading awareness and finding support mechanisms for farmers. She runs a FB group called We Support Our Farmers. Pictures by Sehaj Kaur

Stubble burning is the hottest topic while discussing air pollution. We often forget how this practice came into being! With the introduction of Green Revolution, Punjab got the title of “The Bread Basket Of India” – along with it came the trend of monocropping, excessive use of pesticides and insecticides, hybrid seeds, depletion of healthy soil, cancer, stubble burning, asthma, lung diseases etc.

The Green Revolution brought along its own evils. Before the 1960s, Punjab and Haryana farmers were into crop multicropping; the crop residue was used for the farm animals. Multicropping adds to the enrichment and fertility of the soil. Green Revolution was brought in to get rid of the food scarcity that India was facing in the 1950s – the farmers of Punjab and Haryana came forward and helped their countrymen combat hunger. Did we ever think about the price these two states had to face due to adopting the techniques introduced by the Green Revolution?

With the new concept of monocropping, came the introduction of hybrid seeds and they brought along with them use of pesticides and insecticides. As a result the crop pattern which was suitable to the Punjab and Haryana´s climatic conditions was abandoned and a new variety of hybrid wheat and rice was brought in. The crop residue of this variety i.e. the stubble was unfit for animal consumption. The best possible way for disposing of this was stubble burning, a concept that was introduced by PAU, on encouragement of the central government.

The use of hybrid seeds was encouraged by the Government to get a better yield. However these seeds were resistant to various insects and pests. Thus, the indiscriminate use of insecticides and pesticides was introduced. The excessive use of these chemicals have not only depleted the soil of its fertility but also added toxicity to the soil. As a result, the Malwa belt in Punjab has the highest rate of cancer patients and the groundwater is unfit for consumption.

The worst hit is the ecological balance – many species of Punjab’s flora and fauna have disappeared due to the disruption of the entire food chain. Growing crops unsuited to the region’s climate has had its fallouts as well. Rice or paddy was not a native crop of Punjab. As we all know that rice is grown in coastal areas that have excessive rain – this is not so in case of Punjab and Haryana. To make sure there was enough water, introduction of tubewells, boring wells to cultivate rice was brought into practice, resulting in the depletion of the water table.

Unlike native seeds, hybrid seeds cannot be propagated – the farmer therefore is unable to save the seeds for the next season as they are not as viable as native seeds. Forced to buy new seeds every season, the farmer finds himself in a circle of debt.

Coming back to stubble burning, why is this done at all? One reason that is often cited is the small window of time that farmers have between harvesting rice and sowing wheat. The alternative methods to stubble burning are extremely expensive.

Omkar Singh Khaira, general secretary of BKU (Rajewal), says that farmers don’t want to grow paddy, but need viable and alternative methods. Similarly, Satnam Singh Ajnala, President of Jamhoori Kisan Sabha Punjab said that the government should compensate the farmers per acre to enable alternative methods. These methods such as Happy seeders, super seeders, mulching etc. promoted by the government are way too expensive for a marginal farmer – about Rs 6000 to 7000/- per acre.

According to Dr. Prabhjot Kaur from PAU, it is unlikely for smog in Delhi to be carried from Punjab because for that the wind speed needs to be 300 – 400 km per hour while even on the most windiest day of the stubble burning months the speed of air has not increased by 4 to 5 km per hour – that too it blows in opposite direction of Delhi! Still, regardless of where the winds take it, children are affected severely by stubble burning!

According to Sehajpal Singh Mangat, a young farmer from Village Rampur in Ludhiana District, government should provide incentive to the farmers for crop diversification.Vishavdeep Singh, a farmer from Sri Ganga Nagar suggests that Government needs to take long term measures to undo the ill effects of the Green Revolution and move farmers towards sustainable agriculture that can save our land, water, environment and air toxicity.

Basically, the Government of India brought about the Green Revolution. It is the responsibility of the Government of India to compensate the farmers for facing the perils of the Green Revolution . Farmers did a favour to the nation, and now it is time for the nation to stand by its farmers.

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