With farmers demanding incentives for not burning crop residue and the government declining the same, the practice — which spikes air pollution in the region including national Capital, Delhi, every year during October and November — is likely to continue this year too.

Following National Green Tribunal’s tough stand on checking stubble burning, Punjab agriculture department and pollution control board have been discouraging farmers from burning their crop residue this season, which starts in October and also listing its benefits to the soil.

But given the cost of the machines to get rid of the residue, most farmers can’t afford to buy or hire seeders and other tools.

Sample this: A happy seeder costs about Rs. 1.2 lakh. After a maximum subsidy of Rs 50 thousand, it costs about Rs. 70 thousand.

The Punjab agriculture department has so far sanctioned 50 per cent subsidy to buy 210 Happy Seeders, 383 Paddy straw chopper, shredder, mulcher, 119 reversible hydraulics.

Given the fact that paddy cultivation area in Punjab is about 30 lakh hectare, the number of equipment bought for managing stubble is negligible.

For example, if happy seeders are to be used for all 30 lakh hectare area under paddy cultivation, about 20 thousand happy seeders will be required, an official said.

While it takes just a match stick to burn the stubble in quick time, farmers say to plough the stubble into the soil costs about Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 6,000 per acre.

“We are forced to burn crop residue. There is huge costs involved in the process to plough the stubble into the soil. Therefore is no other option than to burn the stubble in absence of government incentive or subsidy for it,” general secretary, Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan), Sukhdev Singh Kokri Kalan told The Statesman.

In a meeting with the cabinet sub-committee of the Punjab government on Wednesday, farmers unions demanded a subsidy of Rs. 200 per quintal of paddy straw.

A senior agriculture department official, however, said the government pays subsidy to farmers on free power, equipment and seeds. “So we can’t pay subsidies for everything to farmers,” he said requesting not to be named.

A Jalandhar-based farmer leader, Hira Singh, said if the government wants to stop the age-old practice, it will have to pay subsidy. “We don’t have the money to buy diesel but the government wants us to buy machines worth Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 1 lakh for managing crop residue,” he said.

Stubble is eight to 10 inches of straw left behind once the paddy or wheat crop is harvested. Farmers usually burn the stubble to prepare the fields for the next sowing season. As per a 2012 study, 80 per cent of rice residue is burnt in Punjab.