Clouds of smog are visible in all parts of Punjab. The smoke emerging from paddy fields put on fire by farmers has turned into a big layer of haze thus reducing the visibility significantly in the countryside. It has become difficult to commute due to this very reason, especially in the late evening. The air quality started deteriorating immediately after the Diwali festival and there is no respite since then. In fact, the quality of the air has further worsened due to the heavy concentration of the suspended particulate matter in the atmosphere. The latest figures released by the Punjab Pollution Control Board state that it is 328 microgram per cubic meter which is well beyond the safe limit. In the cities like Amritsar and Ludhiana are among the worst-hit cities in the state.
Efforts were made at all level following the directive was given by various courts including the apex court of the country and national green tribunal to check the air pollution as it has become a cause of worry for cities such as that national capital- New Delhi. Courts had restricted the busting of the firecrackers on Diwali night for a few hours. But despite court orders, people continued to bust crackers after the prescribed time. Even well-educated people in cities like Chandigarh, which is considered to be one of the most modern city in the world and inhabited by literate people, violated the court orders though they were aware that by busting crackers they were polluting the air. No one should blame ruralites when people of cities like Chandigarh behaved in this manner.
It is a known fact that people have been burning paddy residue for the past three decades. Before 1980, paddy was grown in a small area in Punjab. However, after that, the area under paddy grew by leaps and bounds. As of now, about 27 lakh hectares of land is under paddy crop in Punjab. And this year, Punjab is likely to create a new record of paddy production. The Government authorities concerned that it is expecting to procure 182 lakh tone of paddy this year and it would be a record procurement surpassing all previous records.
However, the moot question is what Punjab is gaining by producing paddy in such a high quantity. It is true that paddy is one of the most viable or say remunerative crop for farmers. Due to this reason, they are not prepared to leave it. However, by growing paddy in such a vast area, Punjab has to face peculiar problems. One is the pollution which the state is facing as of now. Due to air pollution, the life of people who suffer from respiratory diseases becomes miserable. They have to be admitted to hospitals due to the attack of Asthma. Small kids suffer most because of allergens floating around due to suspended particulate matter in the air. Obviously, paddy has become a big health hazard.
Another problem is related to the subsoil water. Paddy is considered the water-guzzling crop. Farmers have to waterlog their fields to grow paddy. As canal water is not available in enough quantity to meet paddy requirement, farmers have to be dependent on tube wells to nurse this crop. Water has to be pumped out through tube wells to quench the thirst of paddy fields. There are 14 lakh tube wells in the state. Most of these keep pumping out water in June, July, August, and September. Due to this reason, the subsoil water is going down and down. In certain pockets, it has gone down to the level of 300 feet or beyond. To pump out water, the state government gives power free of cost to farmers to operate tube wells. Providing free power to all farmers, including the richest of the lot, has proved detrimental to the fiscal health of the state. In fact, that has affected the state in many ways. What is Punjab gaining by growing paddy? All sections of the society should ponder over this question. It is the right time to take a rational decision with regard to the growing of paddy in Punjab. There is a need to provide a viable alternative of paddy to farmers in the state. That will be in the interest of the state.
Simran Nini Singh