Between the carrot and the stick, the carrot works better, many would say. Even Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh believes so. To stop the polluting practice of crop-stubble burning, the chief minister has proposed that farmers be incentivised to not resort to such farm waste disposal. Singh suggests that farmers who don’t burn crop stubble be given Rs 100 per quintal over and above the MSP during procurement of grain by central agencies. Now, the smoke from crop burning in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh causes Delhi and the national capital region (NCR) to choke every year, right after the kharif crop is harvested in these states. Just from the perspective of letting Delhi breathe easy, incentivising farmers to give up crop residue burning would seem a sound proposal. Only, bonuses on MSP are not the best way to do this.
Linking the incentive to the MSP-public procurement system, a wasteful and leaky mechanism, would make dismantling the latter very difficult—a per-quintal bonus means more grain will be pushed into the procurement system, making the system that much more indispensable to farm livelihoods. Besides, while crop burning is a serious issue in many states, central agencies chiefly procure from Punjab and Haryana farmers. Singh’s proposal, thus, may help Delhi, but will do little to comprehensively discourage the practice. Recent Nasa images showed a massive surge in crop-residue burining in Punjab and Haryana, indicating that the threat of penalty, as fixed by the National Green Tribunal, hasn’t had the desired impact. So, incentivising farmers may be an option that the government needs to explore seriously. But it should be more in the vein of subsidising tech-driven alternatives to farm-waste disposal like rotavators, etc. Such a measure could have a more widespread impact, given it wouldn’t just be to the benefit of Punjab and Haryana farmers.