A curious case of missing farm machinery banks has been detected in Bathinda district of Punjab. These were set up under a Central scheme to tackle stubble burning, a major problem that surfaces every year after the paddy harvesting season. A team of the Central Farm Machinery Training and Testing Institute, Budni, MP, in a report to the state government, has said 34 of these farm machinery banks were not found on the stated address, alluding that they were mostly fictitious. The report has also pointed to other lapses like under-utilisation of implements and their physical availability.
Stubble burning has both environmental and political dimensions. While it has led to a dip in the air quality index, there are political compulsions too like the Assembly bypolls in Punjab and state elections in neighbouring Haryana. In the case of setting up industries, where too banks offer subsidy, certain guarantees are sought. There is physical inspection of the location and methods to recover the loan ascertained. In this case, the farm machinery banks were set up by cooperative societies comprising farmers, self-help groups, farm groups and private entrepreneurs. The government should inquire into the modalities adhered to while giving the subsidy.
Punjab has in the past too reported fictitious cases of beneficiaries in the Shagun scheme, old-age pension scheme and the Atta-Dal scheme. There is also the case of spurious seeds and fertilisers being sold. The survey says the average use of machines was poor. Making the machines available locally is one thing, but renting it costs money. The testing charge for a combine harvester at the Budni centre is around Rs 4 lakh. It shows the costs involved. It is also a common practice for the farm machinery owners in Punjab to lease these to other states so that they do not lie idle. The farmer guide of the Budni centre lists six states — MP, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Gujarat and Odisha. It would be ideal for an agrarian state like Punjab to have such a centre itself to tackle the problem locally.