Bihar cracks down on errant farmers for stubble burning

Farmers who burnt stubble will not get subsidies even as many blame mechanisation and dwindling cattle

By C K Manoj
Published: Tuesday 15 December 2020
Bihar cracks down on errant farmers for stubble burning. Photo: Vikas Choudhary / CSE

The Bihar government launched a crackdown against farmers burning crop stubbles after harvest, a top official said recently.

The state agriculture department in Bihar has blocked subsidies and incentives to 944 farmers who were caught violating the government advisory, government data from September till now has shown. These subsidies and incentives are directly transferred to the bank accounts of farmers registered with the department.

“The idea is to discourage farmers from indulging in stubble burning and make them know it is a wrong practice,” Bihar Agriculture Secretary N Saravana Kumar told local media earlier this week. He said the action was taken after strict monitoring of farmlands by agriculture officers on the ground.

The blacklisted farmers won’t be getting incentives and subsidies for buying farm equipment, seeds, irrigation facility and also input subsidy for next three years. More than 1.63 crore farmers are currently registered with the agriculture department for direct benefit Tax transfers.

Around 517 farmers have been blacklisted in Rohtas district, followed by 133 in Kaimur, 100 in Nalanda, 93 in Buxar, 40 in Gaya, 33 in Patna, 21 in Bhojpur and seven in Jamui. Rohtas and Kaimur are Bihar’s major paddy growing districts and are known as its ‘rice bowl’.

Agriculture officials said farmers were refusing to listen to their appeals about not burning the crop residues in the fields as they thought it would delay sowing of Rabi crops.

“The problem is that they harvest the paddy crop by using combine harvesters and soon after that, they have to start wheat cultivation. So, they don’t want to waste time by letting the crop residue decay itself in the field,” Sanjay Nath Tiwari, district agriculture office, Rohtas, told this reporter.

“We have also been repeatedly advising them to collect the straw at one place and sell it but this appeal has failed to work,” Tiwari added.

Tiwari said the administration was now organising a Kisan Chaupal (Farmers’ Square) to inform them about the consequences of stubble burning. Farmers would also be told that they stood to lose huge amounts of money under various government schemes if they violated the government’s order.

Agricultural scientists said stubble burning had been harming not just the environment but also soil fertility. “Soil has a vibrant life. It has millions of microbes, bacteria, fungi and earthworms which help increase its fertility. The farmers are killing these beneficial microbes by burning stubble,” Anil Kumar Jha, deputy director with the state agriculture department said.

The increasing trend of farmers burning stubble had also seen them getting hugely dependent on urea and fertilisers to increase crop production in recent years, Jha said.

Senior agriculture scientist and Director of Extension Education at Bihar Agriculture University, Sabour (Bhagalpur), RK Sohane said they had launched massive awareness campaigns to convince farmers to stop stubble burning.

“The mixing of crop residues in the soil not only increases its water retention level but also increases its fertility level which means increased crops yields,” Sohane said.

Mechanisation, the villain

Increasing mechanisation of the agriculture sector has left farmers with fewer or no choice but to burn crop stubble in their fields.

Paddy straw was in huge demand till farmers were dependent on traditional methods of farming that required using oxen to till the fields or thresh the harvested grains. But now, the majority of farmers have sold off their oxen and are using machines for agriculture work, in turn, creating a major problem.

“You won’t see any oxen in villages. Although many farmers have cows and buffalos, how much will fodder will they buy for them? We have lost use of paddy straw and hence have no option other than burning them in the field,” Anil Kumar, a farmer from Sasaram said.

“Whether the government blocks subsidy or not, the farmers can’t stop stubble burning. There is a severe labour crisis while it takes almost 20-30 days to get the crop residues decay in the soil. If we wait for their decay for so long, when will we sow the wheat crops?” he asked. He said it was beyond the government’s control to stop this practice with the farming now hugely dependent on machines.

Another farmer said the main cause of stubble burning in Bihar was severe shortage of farm labourers. “First, the labourers are not easily available in the region. Second, it takes a long time to harvest crops manually. So, the farmers have shifted to machines for farm work, that have complicated the whole problem,” Jagat Bhushan, a farmer from Gaya, said.

He also questioned the government’s policy of subsidy. “While the government has been giving subsidies on implements causing air pollution such as tractors and diesel sets, there is no subsidy on buying oxen,” he said.

Till recently, stubble burning after harvesting was rampant in other parts of north India. Of late though, this trend has increased alarmingly in Bihar too. Currently, 11 districts out of a total 38 are affected by it.

Chief minister Nitish Kumar was shocked when he found huge tracts of farmland under fire and plumes of smoke going up in the sky while returning from Banka district by chopper a couple of days back.

“The practice of stubble burning started from Punjab and has now covered various districts of Bihar. It has become a practice all over the state now,” the chief minister said while inaugurating the launch of the climate-smart agriculture programme December 14, 2020.

Kumar asked officials to educate farmers without penalising them. “Please rush to the ground and know from villagers why they have refused to stop stubble burning,” the chief minister told the chief secretary.

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