Patiala/Bathinda: Bowing to the pressure of farm unions and to placate veteran farmer leader Jagjit Singh Dallewal to call off his 6-day hunger strike Punjab government on Thursday issued a notification to withdraw all cases where red entries were made in the land records of farmers who were had burnt paddy residue this harvest season.
Farmers are a significant vote bank in the state for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and the move is seen as a U-turn by the government to check the environmentally hazardous farm practice in the state. Over 4,300 cases of red entries will be rolled back after the notification.
Punjab agriculture minister Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal withdrew the orders and the chief secretary issued the formal notification in this regard on November 23, which the minister took along with him to placate the protesting farmers. The orders directed the DCs that the red entry made against erring farmers has been withdrawn. A red entry in the land record means depriving a farmer of government benefits and various subsidies. As per the decision of the state government, once a red entry is made in the land record for stubble burning, a farmer may not be able to take a loan against the said land, mortgage it or sell it.
“Since the beginning, our government has been clear that farmers will not be penalised for burning crop residue. Whatever action was taken in few districts, it was in accordance with directions of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) but the government is committed to withdrawing all types of actions taken against farmers,” Dhaliwal had said in Faridkot on Thursday late night after convincing the veteran farmer leader Dallewal to end his hunger strike.
When Sanyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM-apolitical) started indefinite ‘chakka jam’ in districts of Punjab on November 16, withdrawal of cases for burning paddy stubble was the major demand. The same issue was the first among the 13-point demands submitted to the state government yesterday in Faridkot during deliberations with the minister.
Bathinda deputy commissioner Showkat Ahmad Parray confirmed that the order revoking red entries had been received.
“The official communication was received yesterday, and the red entries will now be revoked. However, there is no official word from the state government on revoking environment compensation, or penalty imposed on farmers under orders from the National Green Tribunal (NGT), on violators,” Parray said.
Till November 21, a total of 49,526 incidents of stubble fires have been reported in the state, which in the previous season correspondingly were 71,024.
As per the state government data, by November 14, the Punjab revenue department had marked red entries in the land records of 4,342 farmers. Also, 6,180 farmers were imposed environmental compensation (penalty) for violating the government orders of not burning the paddy straw till November 14.
However, the rate of recovery was negligible as till November 14, a total of ₹1.58 cr penalty was imposed on the farmers, and only ₹12,500 was reportedly recovered. In 2021, till the end of the Kharif season (November 30) ₹2.85 cr penalty was imposed, and only ₹2 lakh was recovered.
As per the Ludhiana-based Punjab Remote Sensing Centre (PRSC), till November 18, paddy straw was burnt over 14.88 lakh hectares, against last season’s 14.17 lakh hectares on the same day.
Officials unhappy with orders
The complete U-turn by the government has not gone well with the officials and bureaucracy, who faced hardship in the field to contain farm fires and end the menace of stubble burning by issuing challans, imposing fines and making a red entry in the land records of erring farmers.
“This is not a ‘badlav’, which was anticipated. The AAP government is working like previous governments. First, it put the government officials in the field against farmers, and then they bowed to the pressure of farmers and withdrew action taken against erring farmers. It’s always employees who have faced the burnt,” said Harbir Singh Dhindsa, president of Punjab Patwar Union.
He said that patwaris were always against red entries in land records. “When you make policies sitting in offices and never consult the field staff, it’s set to backfire. The AAP government also bowed to farmers like Akalis, BJP and Congress in the past,” he added.
Dr Sukhvir Singh Sandhu, state president of the Plant Doctors’ Service Association (PDS), a joint organisation of agricultural and horticultural officials, said, “We are feeling cheated. The state government made officials scapegoats. Every government uses employees and pits them against farmers, and later withdraws FIRs, penalties etc, when farmers’ unions create pressure.”
According to Harminder Pal Singh, professor of environment studies at Panjab University, Chandigarh, withdrawing punitive action against the violators shows how serious is the Punjab government’s attitude towards this issue.
“It is a sheer mockery of the law. It was on the expected lines that the government will not go strict against violators. The authorities should ensure better stubble management, and it should also take into consideration those who suffer due to air pollution caused by rampant burning of residue,” Harminder Pal Singh said.
Pertinently, Kuldeep Dhaliwal, who took a U-turn on this issue, had on October 30, suspended four agriculture officials alleging dereliction of duty in curbing stubble fires in their areas of jurisdiction. Those suspended were Sangrur chief agriculture officer Harbans Singh and agriculture officers Satish Kumar (Samana block in Patiala), Harpal Singh (Chohla Sahib block in Tarn Taran), and Bhupinder Singh (Patti block in Tarn Taran). However, the officials were reinstated on November 9 after unions protested against the government’s decision.
“I am in a complete dilemma, I worked hard to convince field staff to penalise the erring farmers, but now the orders are withdrawn. It sends a demoralising signal”, said a Deputy Commissioner, who did not wish to be named. “If such an approach remains, the issue of stubble burning will continue,” he added.