Stubble fires have flared up across Punjab once again, as the state’s temporary crackdown on the practice appeared to unwind, just a week after the Supreme Court ordered five states in north India to stop farmers from setting their paddy fields afire.
The Supreme Court’s stern orders came on November 7, when it directed Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh to immediately stop the burning of crop stubble, which was fuelling an air emergency in Delhi.
Their directives seemed to work for a few days. On November 7, Punjab clocked 1,515 farm fires. On November 8, this picked up to 2,003, even as the state government scrambled to spread word of the Supreme Court’s orders among farmers.
The next day, the number of fires suddenly fell to 639, as Punjab Police began pulling farmers up and registering cases against them. In fact, according to data accessed by HT, the Punjab government registered 253 FIRs against farmers fires on November 8 and 9 alone.
On November 10, this fell to just six, as rains kept farm fires across Punjab at bay. On November 11, it stayed a low 104.
But by Diwali day (Sunday), however, the crackdown and restraint began to wane, with 987 fires on November 12. This number surged to 1,624 on November 13 and even further to 1,776 on November 14.
Concurrent with this rise in fires is a precipitous drop in the number of cases against offending farmers – the state has recorded over 4,000 farm fires since November 9, but police have registered only 11 FIRs, showed the data.
According to the Punjab Remote Sensing Centre, Bathinda on Tuesday recorded the highest number of farm fires at 258 followed by Barnala (253), Sangrur (188), Moga (181), Ferozepur (176) and 149 cases each in Faridkot and Fazilka. Muktsar reported 138 cases while Ludhiana and Mansa registered 89 and 62 farm fires, respectively.
Punjab agriculture director Jaswant Singh said they were reviewing the situation every day, with 7% of the state’s paddy fields still to be cleared up.
“Our teams are on the ground and responding promptly in real time to douse the fire and take action according to the course of law,” Singh said.