How Gurbachan Singh praised by PM Modi in Mann Ki Baat is leading the fight against stubble burning

In the 49th edition of his monthly radio programme ‘Mann Ki Baat’, Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded the efforts of a farmer, Gurbachan Singh from a village in Tarn Taran, Punjab.

Gurbachan Singh (third from left) stands with other farmers next to his paddy field in Tarn Taran. (Source: The Indian Express/Navjeevan Gopal)

In the 49th edition of his monthly radio programme ‘Mann Ki Baat’, Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded the efforts of a farmer, Gurbachan Singh from a village in Tarn Taran, Punjab. “I was reading about farmer brother Gurbachan Singh from Punjab. The son of Gurbachan Singh ji was to be married. Gurbachan ji told bride’s parents that marriage would be performed in solemn manner. But then he suddenly said that he had one condition. You will be surprised to know Bhai Gurbachan Singh asked bride’s father that he will not burn parali or stubble in their fields; condition he placed reflects the true strength of our society,” said PM Modi in ‘Mann Ki Baat’.

Gurbachan Singh not only stopped burning stubble himself but also appealed the fellow farmers in nearby villages to give up the unhealthy practice. His efforts were recognised soon and the district Krishi Vikas Kendra made him the frontrunner of their campaign against stubble burning.

Here’s the story of farmer Gurbachan Singh and his efforts in the anti-stubble burning campaign:

As the particulate matter (PM) levels spike in the national capital, air pollution is all set to become the most-talked-about thing again. Air pollution is now one of the most enduring problems of the national capital Delhi.

Thick-layered smog caused many problems not only for Delhiites but also for farmers in Booh Havelian village in Tarn Taran, Punjab and they had to stop sending their children to school. When it rained, the fields were all full of black mud. A thick layer of soot enveloped the farming machines and equipment, Booh Havelian farmer Nirmal Singh told The Indian Express.

But then, a farmer from Tarn Taran, Gurbachan Singh, who was concerned about the deteriorating environment took a proactive approach to make his fellow farmers aware about the situation and also told them about how to make farming a profitable affair and reduce the subsequent health hazards.

According to an IE report, when his son got married last year, Gurbachan Singh had told the bride’s parents that there would be no baraat as he did not want to impose huge cost of entertaining groom’s side on them. But he also had put forth a condition for bride’s father, Satnam Singh, that he had to stop burning paddy stubble. And Satnam instantly agreed.

Also read | Mann Ki Baat Highlights: PM Modi cites Punjab farmer story to pitch for fighting stubble burning menace

It had to start from my family if I was to persuade others, says Gurbachan, counting that his bargain with Satnam achieved two things — a non-wasteful wedding, and another farmer on his side against stubble burning.

Almost two decades ago, Gurbachan (57) had stopped burning paddy stubble in the 40 acres land that he farms with his brother Gurdev in Burj Deva Singh village. The move from Gurbachan came long before stubble burning was recognised as one of the prime causes of the smog that blankets Punjab, Haryana and Delhi in October and November.

One day it just dawned on me and I stopped burning it, says Gurbachan, adding Guruji had blessed him to spread the message. He began with a zero tillage machine, which involved a lot of labour and continued with it till 2007 when he switched to new technology — Happy Seeder. A Happy Seeder is used to sow wheat without clearing the stubble.

“A farmer understands a farmer better,” says Krishi Vigyan Kendra district official Balwinder Kumar. The Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) has chosen two villages in Punjab’s Tarn Taran for a pilot project to make them 100 per cent fire-free crop. The two villages — Booh Havelian and Jauneke —accounted for the most cases of stubble burning in 2017.

Of a total 1,400 acres in both villages, farmers burnt stubble in more than 1,200 acres last year, says Kumar.

Stubble burning directly impacts air quality in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) and increases carbon dioxide levels in the air by 70 per cent and carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide by 7 per cent and 2.1 per cent, a study by Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) revealed.

Gurbachan further persuaded at least 40 farmers in the village to put crop residue to good use, instead of burning it, in the fields. His efforts made him the poster boy for the Krishi Vigyan Kendra’s anti-stubble burning campaign in the district.

His fertiliser-free paddy fields are ready for harvest, and Gurbachan says his own farms are proof of his convictions. Not only this, for two years now, the soil quality of his field has improved so much that he has completely stopped using fertilizers and insecticide.

Soon, he himself noticed the benefits and convinced others to stop burning the crop waste. Taking a lesson from his fellow farmer, Hardev Singh, a Burj farmer, also stopped burning the crop residue and to his surprise, he sees a gradual decrease in the use of urea. Further, he told The Indian Express that farming without crop burning each year phases out urea by half a bag and that three bags of urea per acre are used on fields set on fire before sowing.

The KVK have had Gurbachan address at least three training camps for farmers and all of them were well attended. He is striking a chord, says Kumar, adding, “Kisaan nu kisaan di gal jaldi samajh aundi hai (A farmer understands a farmer better).”

With a short documentary made by the KVK, starring Gurbachan, the torch-bearer of the anti-stubble burning campaign is educating farmers on a large scale against paddy stubble burning. A devout Sikh, Gurbachan, invokes Guru Nanak’s message of Pavan Guru, Pani Pita, Mata Dharat Mahat (Air the teacher, Water the father and Earth the great mother), to motivate others to stop stubble burning.

He also tells farmers about the additional income farmers can have if they don’t burn stubble. Not burning stubble have saved them on fertilizers and insecticides costs and the yield increased, he told IE. According to him, from the first crop sown without burning stubble, the farmers will be able to save at least Rs 5,000 per acre on input costs.

Kumar also took soil samples of Gurbachan’s fields last year and found the average organic matter in his fields and other fields where no stubble burning was done for 4-5 years was 0.8 per cent. This translates into a very high fertility rate, he said, adding this could be achieved gradually over the years only after he totally stopped burning crop residue. Generally, the organic matter is found to be around 0.2 to 0.3 per cent, which is very low, in the fields where stubble burning takes place, says Kumar.

Scientists and officials will help farmers in Booh Havelian and Jauneke sow wheat and other crops without burning the crop residue in the coming days.

The KVK is giving farmers in the two villages the required equipment free of charge, says Kumar. The KVK here has three Happy Seeders, one Mulcher, two Reversible Mould Board plough machines and other equipment that it provides to the farmers, he says.

The Super Straw Manager is employed to ensure that loose straw thrown by the combine is also cut and spread evenly on the field. A Mulcher and Reversible MB ploughing machine help replenish the soil with nutrients by cutting the crop residue into small pieces and burying it in the soil. They are mainly used for sowing vegetable crops like peas and potatoes.

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