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High prices of machines leave farmers flustered 

Chandigarh, September 25

Even as the Punjab Government has launched an aggressive Rs 276-crore plan to minimise burning of paddy stubble, farmers have given a thumbs down to the “high-cost technology adoption” being demanded of them.

Maintaining that the cost of machinery required to remove stubble — the super stubble management system, happy seeders, rotavators, ploughs, shrub cutters and mulchers — is too high, a majority of farmers are adamant that they have little choice but to burn the straw. It is precisely this concern that farmers at the PAU Kisan Mela had raised before Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, last week.

To counter this reservation, the state government is promoting setting up of Community Hiring Centres (CHCs) — a collective of eight farmers. The centres can then get the machinery at up to 80 per cent subsidy. From about 1,000 odd CHCs formed last year, the state is ready to showcase 5,858 CHCs this year. Vishwajit Khanna, Additional Chief Secretary, Development, Punjab, said promoting CHCs not just cut the cost of machinery for farmers, it also led to better utilisation of machines. “That’s why we have aggressively promoted these. We have already delivered machines to 1,837 of these centres, while remaining machines are on way to delivery,” he said. 

The state government, in the recent meeting of Northern Zonal Council chaired by Home Minister Amit Shah, had sought that the Centre give an additional cost compensation of Rs 100 per quintal for farmers, for ensuring that they don’t burn stubble.

Other than this, 7,837 farmers too have applied for subsidy to buy machines from the state government- approved vendors. “As many as 7,707 of these cases have been approved and machinery delivered to 1,300 farmers. We are also launching information communications and education activities in villages to promote these machines. As many as 7,000 officers from various departments are in the field, to promote removal of stubble and prevent its burning,” said Khanna. He said the government had placed orders for 5,619 more machines.

“Farmers are in financial distress. To expect farmers to buy this expensive machinery, when they are finding it difficult to make ends meet, is rather insensitive on the part of the government. Recently, the Punjab Pollution Control Board had issued orders that no farmer could operate combine harvesters until the super stubble management system was attached to it. But it costs close to Rs 2 lakh. Even though there is a subsidy on buying this machine, it is out of reach of farmers,” said Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, general secretary of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan).

Interestingly, the high court passed orders recently on a petition filed by Bhartiya Kisan Union, saying that recovery of fines on farmers for stubble-burning was to be kept in abeyance, but it made no mention that the pollution board could not impose fines on them. The judgment also put the onus of ensuring that no stubble was burnt on the leaders of the union, saying they had to ensure that the stubble was stored in village common lands, personal or forest lands. This has given teeth to the state government to issue challans against defaulting farmers.

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