New Delhi: The Cabinet Secretary-level discussions on stubble burning are learnt to clearly pinpoint inadequate enforcement and effort by the Punjab government, specifics of which are also likely to find their way into the Centre’s submissions to the Supreme Court this week, ET has gathered.
The Punjab government, meanwhile, is expected to pitch two major solutions to stubble pollution in SC- a higher Minimum Support Price for alternate crops to wean Punjab farmers off rice and boost crop diversification besides 50% central funding for an incentive scheme for stubble management.
The Centre is not in favour of reworking the MSP for paddy or other crops, ET gathers. The agriculture ministry holds that the fixed MSP which provides at least 50% return over all India weighted average cost of production is a benefit to farmers across the country. Raising the price of crops simply to make them competitive with rice could result in a distortion of market prices and it would be inappropriate to resort to such a measure for one state.
It is also against ‘perverse incentives’ such as stubble ‘compensation’ and ‘free’ happy seeder machine proposals made by the Punjab government as it feels this will create distortions and encourage farmers in other states to seek the same.
During the three rounds of meetings chaired by the Union Cabinet Secretary on Nov 8, Nov 16 and Nov 18, it has been noted that despite having access to maximum Crop Residue Management machines and Custom Hiring Centres as well as the largest share of funding, Punjab’s share is ‘disproportionately high’ in crop burning cases.
Data shows that as on November 17, 2023, 88.7% of stubble burning cases of 2023 — that is 33,082 of the 37,394 — have been reported from Punjab against 5.43% by Haryana and 6.1% by UP.
Assessments also clearly show that the 2023 target of near-zero burning cases in Haryana and at least 50% reduction in 18 districts of Punjab and zero cases in five districts have not been met.
The Centre’s data points, expected to be shared with the apex court, states that the largest share of funds — that is, over 45% of the total — has been released to Punjab under the Agriculture Ministry’s Crop Residue Management in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and NCT of Delhi scheme of 2018-19. Of the total Crop Residue Management machines supplied, the maximum number of machines — 1.28 lakh (47% of total machines) — have been supplied to Punjab again. Similarly, the maximum number of Custom Hiring Centres (over 25,000- 63% of the total) have been established in Punjab. Yet, the state is still reporting the highest number of residue burning incidents which indicates inefficient utilisation of machines as only 50% straw is being managed so far.
Punjab has reportedly also shown lesser interest in the new initiative launched in 2023-34 for techno commercial paddy straw supply chain for various end-user industries in biomass power generation and biofuel sectors.
While UP has sanctioned 91 projects amounting to ₹75.53 crore under the scheme, Punjab has sanctioned only 12 projects of Paddy Straw Supply Chain amounting to ₹15.50 crore, as per central data. On the other hand, central discussions have advocated the Haryana model to Punjab- such as a common Determined Rate of Paddy Straw, one-time grants for diversification of paddy to other crops and incentivisation of Direct Seeding of Rice.
The AAP-ruled Punjab government is expected to cite its 29% reduction in stubble fires in 2023 vis-a-vis last year and also remind of the state’s ‘pivotal role’ as the largest contributor to the national pool of rice and to the country’s food security.
It is expected to strongly argue for retaining the paddy MSP but also seek MSP from the Centre for alternate crops like Maize, cotton, Groundnut, soybean and arhar – to encourage crop diversification.
ET gathers that the state government is further seeking a ban on long duration paddy varieties which lead to more stubble and is also pitching a 50% central funding based scheme for stubble management.