The main concern of the authorities, especially the pollution control boards in both the states, is the harm that the crop burning - wheat stubble and paddy straw - causes to the environment
They have been warned, threatened with prosecution and even offered inducements. But a number of farmers in Punjab and Haryana seem disinclined to stop their environment-unfriendly bi-annual exercise of burning crop residue, cited by environmentalists as one of the prinicipal causes of dust haze and air pollution in Delhi and northern India.
With the wheat harvest in both the states nearly over, authorities are attempting in whatever they can to discourage farmers from burning the crop residue in their fields. The main concern of the authorities, especially the pollution control boards in both the states, is the harm that the crop burning - wheat stubble and paddy straw - causes to the environment.
While authorities in Haryana have warned farmers and even pointed out that proceedings will be initiated against them for violating the ban on burning stubble, the Punjab government had recently announced cash rewards to districts and villages which curb the unhealthy practice.
"Many farmers want to save time of uprooting the crop residue and resort to burning. This may give them short-term results but is harming the fertility of the soil and the environment in the long run," Kultar Singh, a young, educated farmer and an environmentalist, told IANS.
Haryana's environment department has issued a notification under the Air (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act of 1981 that bans the burning of agriculture waste in open fields.
"The Haryana government has issued an advisory to the farmers not to burn wheat stubble as it leads to manifold increase in the air pollution level during the harvesting season. They should try to recover it with the help of machines for use as fodder or convert it into manure," an official of the Haryana State Pollution Control Board told IANS, requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
Board officials have been asked to keep a strict vigil and file cases against the defaulting farmers.
In recent years, the board has filed cases against 32 farmers in the special environment courts at Kurukshetra and Faridabad.
"The board has so far approved nine cases in 2015-16," the official added.
The Punjab government recently announced a financial grant of Rs.1 crore ($157,000) and Rs.100,000 for each district and village rid of the malaise.
"Resorting to punitive measures to end this menace does not yield results; hence it was decided to reward the districts and villages which curbed the practice of straw burning," a Punjab government spokesman told IANS.
Punjab contributes over 50 percent of foodgrain - wheat and paddy - to the national kitty despite having just 1.54 percent of the country's geographical area.
Haryana's agriculture department is promoting the use of various machines and techniques to discourage farmers from burning crop residue.
"Farmers are being given subsidy for purchase of machines like happy-seeder, turbo-seeder, shredder, bailing machine and zero-seed-cum-fertilizer drill to facilitate in-situ management of crop residue," agriculture department official Ashok Kumar told IANS.
"The burning leads to manifold increase in air pollution levels during the harvesting season. The soil fertility is also lost due to the burning of essential nutrients," scientist Ranbir Dahiya told IANS.
It is estimated that burning of one tonne of rice straw accounts for loss of 5.5 kg of nitrogen, 2.3 kg of phosphorus, 25 kg of potassium and 1.2 kg of sulphur. The heat generated elevates the soil temperature, killing fungi, pests, reptiles and the like that are otherwise beneficial for the crops.
"If the crop residue is incorporated or retained in the soil itself, it gets enriched, particularly with organic carbon and nitrogen," Dahiya said.
Other hazards of crop burning include the fire spreading to habitations or forests, accidents due to poor visibility caused by the smoke and breathing problems for people. In recent years, both Green Revolution states have seen bumper crops of wheat and paddy, leading to increased burning of crop residue.