NEW DELHI: The Punjab government has told a Supreme Court-mandated pollution control authority that custom hiring centres (CHCs) in the state will not charge any rental from small and marginal farmers for machinery to manage stubble.
Farmers who cannot afford expensive machinery for in-situ management of crop residue hire farm equipment from CHCs.
The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority had earlier asked Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh not to charge rentals from small and marginal farmers.
"The CHCs will charge no rentals for providing machines to small and marginal farmers," Chief Secretary, Punjab, Vini Mahajan wrote in a letter to EPCA head Bhure Lal.
Marginal farmers are those who cultivate (as owner or tenant or share cropper) agricultural land up to 1 hectare, while small farmers are those who cultivate agricultural land more than 1 hectare and up to 2 hectares.
The EPCA had also asked the states to specify rental charges for machinery to avoid any ambiguity.
Acting on its directions, the Punjab government has fixed the hiring rates for machines too.
Rental charge for most of the machines, including happy seeder, rotavator, straw chopper and zero till drill, is between Rs 100 and Rs 200.
Last year, Punjab produced around 20 million tonnes paddy residue. Farmers burnt 9.8 million tonnes of it. Farmers in Haryana burnt nearly 1.23 million tonnes out of seven million tonnes of paddy residue produced.
Despite a ban on stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana, farmers continue to defy it as there is a short window between harvesting of paddy and sowing of wheat.
The high cost of manual or mechanical management of straw is a major reason why farmers choose to burn it.
State governments are providing 50 to 80 per cent subsidy to farmers and cooperative societies to buy modern farm equipment for in-situ management of paddy straw, installing paddy straw-based power plants and running a massive awareness campaign against stubble burning.
But these measures are yet to make any significant impact on the ground.