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Crop burning: New machines don’t solve, but add to menace

Debt-ridden farmers have to either rent or buy the machines, which pose several threats to their next crop

By Jitendra
Last Updated: Monday 15 October 2018
Crop burning
Credit: Jitendra Choubey Credit: Jitendra Choubey

Hamir Singh, 53, who holds a 14-acre farm in Kalajhar village in Sangrur district of Punjab, had decided to toe the line, but didn’t work for him. He followed the ban on crop residue burning and tried using new technology like the rotavator, which has rotating blades that chop the straw in to small pieces and then it spreads it inside the soil.

On October 5, he took a rotavator from Kalajhar village cooperative society on rent and paid Rs 1,200 for eight hours. He then spent Rs 3,000 on diesel, Rs 300 on servicing the machine and hired a high-power tractor. Singh used the rotavator to mulch the paddy residue on 4 acres of his land. But, now he is in trouble.

“I am afraid that all my efforts will go in vain because it seems like the straw will not dispose of even in the next one month,” says Hamir Singh while pointing at the straw that was visible even when it had been six days since he used the rotavator. “If the situation persists, I will not be able to grow wheat on time. I should have burned the residue instead of investing Rs 4,500,” adds Singh.

How effective are the machines

This raises a big question: While the government has banned stubble burning, has it not even provided farmers with a good enough alternative? The effectiveness of the machines made available to farmers, like chopper, happy seeders, super straw management system (Super-SMS) and rotavator, is questionable. “A 25-day window is not enough to decompose the straws,” says Chand Singh, a farmer leader from Sangrur.

While explaining the matter, Chand says that happy seeder has the potential of causing a rat and termite attack when wheat seeds are sown. “This machine just sows wheat without cutting paddy straw and this invites rats and termite to the field,” he claims.

When it comes to super-SMS, farmers may have to bear loss of produce and the quality too may be affected. “In one acre, we can lose up to 2.5 quintals of our paddy and the quality also dips as it spreads paddy along with the straw during harvest,” says the farm leader.

Not affordable

If a farmer buys all the machines at subsidised rates, he will have to spend Rs 3 lakh. And, that’s not all. The machines require higher basic horse power (BHP) tractors, which cost much higher than all these machines. “All these machines are quite heavy and require more than 70-80 BHP tractors to run them. It costs around Rs 10 lakh,” says Shamser Singh, village head of Kaljhar.

The cooperative society, which serves nine villages that have holdings of around 50,000 acres, does not have other machines like chopper, happy seeders, super-SMS, zero till drills and others to rent out interested farmers. This unavailability further lets companies increase the prices of these machines. “The cost of a rotavator was Rs 80,000 earlier, but it has now jumped to Rs 1.3 lakh in just few months,” says Omkar Singh, farmer leader in Nabha village in Punjab’s Patiala. “We were thinking of buying it at a 50 per cent subsidy by paying Rs 40,000. But now we have to cough up Rs 65,000,” he adds.

Even the cost of happy seeder machines has almost doubled from Rs 95,000 to Rs 1.7 lakh. Moreover, those who had bought rotavator, got the subsidy 4 months later. “I already took a loan from the bank to buy the rotavator machine at Rs 1.35 lakh but have not received any subsidy,” says Harjinder Singh, a farmer in Kalajhar village. Like Harjinder, six other farmers in the village have bought rotavator, but none of them have received any subsidy yet.

The farmers also complain that they are being forced to spend so much money to use the machines they need for just one month. “There is no other use of the machines except for this one month. So making this investment is not prudent,” says Jagtar Singh, a farm leader.

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