A senior nodal officer wanting to remain anonymous said that the role of nodal officers is limited to physically verifying the incidents of stubble burning at different farms and handing it over to the government.
As the harvest season of Punjab’s major Kharif crop rice is about to start in a few weeks, the state government has appointed more than 8000 nodal officers across the state to prevent the incidents of stubble burning. In the last few years, the state government appoints such nodal officials in the run up to the paddy harvest season to keep an eye on farmers who burn stubble, the remnants of the crop, in the open which becomes a major cause of severe air pollution in the Delhi-NCR region. On the face of it, a battery of officials appointed by the government should be effective in preventing all stubble burning incidents, however, the stubble burning incidents in the last few years have increased. The Indian Express reported why and how such steps prove ineffective every year and what could be a better solution to end the menace of stubble burning.
Increase in stubble burning cases
After coming to power in the year 2017, the Congress government began appointing nodal officers to check stubble burning from 2018. The state of Punjab consists of about 13000 villages in total and more than 9500 villages sow paddy at a large scale. The government, therefore, has appointed about 8000 nodal officers with the ratio of one nodal officer in each village and few nodal officers looking after two small neighbouring villages.
Appointment of a huge posse of officials notwithstanding, the incidents of stubble burning have only increased year after year. In the year 2018 the state recorded a total of 50,590 incidents of stubble burning which increased to 55,210 and 76,582 in the year 2019 and 2020 respectively.
Why have nodal officials failed in preventing stubble firing incidents?
A senior nodal officer, wanting to remain anonymous, told the Indian Express that the role of nodal officers is limited to physically verifying the incidents of stubble burning at different farms and handing it over to the government. Putting the duties of a nodal officer on the same pedestal to that of a postman, the official said that nodal officers only report the incident to the government authorities and it is upto the government to take action against the farmers.
Lasting solution for stubble burning
Experts told the Indian Express that nodal officials should be appointed at the time of sowing of paddy crops and they should be given the mandate to change the mindset of upper and middle class farmers who can afford to buy stubble management machinery. The officials should also keep a record of small and marginal farmers who are sowing paddy and are not in a position to buy the machinery. For such farmers, the government with the help of NGOs should facilitate the stubble machinery at a nominal rate.
A senior official in the agriculture department told the Indian Express that there are places in the state where rich farmers are lending their stubble machinery to the small farmers free of cost. The official said that the government should promote such actions and also pitch in with free diesel for those small and marginal farmers who cannot afford it.