Enforcing a ban will not end the menace of stubble burning

Prelims level : Pollution Control Mains level :
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  • Only educating farmers about the monetary costs of burning stubble can address the environmental crisis triggered every year. Burning stubble, the rice chaff left over after harvesting, is linked to winter air-pollution in the State as well as down-wind Delhi
  • According to the team, the government’s efforts earmarking funds for specialised farming equipment (for straw management) or enforcing the state-led ban on the practice are unlikely to solve the problem.
  • Farmer cooperative groups a key link between government and farmers ought to be playing a more active role in educating farmers, say key authors associated with the study.

What Is Stubble Burning?

  • Stubble burning is, the act of removing paddy crop residue from the field to sow wheat.
  • It’s usually required in areas that use the ‘combine harvesting’ method which leaves crop residue behind.
  • It is mainly carried out in Haryana and Punjab.
  • Open burning of husk produces harmful smoke that causes pollution. Open burning of husk is of incomplete combustion in nature. Hence large amount of toxic pollutants are emitted in the atmosphere. Pollutants contain harmful gases like Methane, Carbon Monoxide (CO), Volatile organic compound (VOC) and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

What is combine harvesting?

  • Combines are machines that harvest, thresh i.e separate the grain, and also clean the separated grain, all at once.
  • The problem, however, is that the machine doesn’t cut close enough to the ground, leaving stubble behind that the farmer has no use for.
  • There is pressure on the farmer to sow the next crop in time for it to achieve a full yield. The quickest and cheapest solution, therefore, is to clear the field by burning the stubble.

Why do Farmers Burn?

  • Cost Factor: The straw management equipment is costly and process is time consuming. Also, the cost of stubble management is not taken into account while determining the minimum support price (MSP).
  • Increasing mechanization of agriculture: Stubble problem was not as severe when paddy was harvested manually because the farmers use to cut it as close to the ground as possible. Due to mechanization the crop residue that remains in the field is of larger quantity;
  • Labour costs are very high now
  • Combine harvester machines to tide over the labour scarcity- The machine appears to be the key reason behind the problem because it only reaps the grains, leaving stalks or stubble of around 40 cm. Those who want fodder have to get the stubble removed manually or use specialised machines to do the job. But that is costly. For every 0.4 ha of wheat crop, the cost of renting a combine harvester is just Rs 800. Once the machine has harvested, the cost of getting the stubble removed is Rs 3,500/ha.
  • Time Factor: Delay in sowing means yield decline, this leaves very little time to clear the farm for sowing.
  • Monoculture of wheat and paddy: In Andhra, bean gram and black gram are planted while rice stubble decomposes on its own.
  • Unlike wheat stalks that are used as animal fodder, the paddy straw has high silica content that animals can’t digest.
  • Since farmers need to sow wheat within a fortnight of harvesting paddy, they burn the straw to save time, labour and money.

Analysis of the issue

  • The assured irrigation-based agriculture of north-west India produces a large quantity of wheat and paddy to ensure food security of the country. This region produces an equally large quantity of crop residue.
  • During late October to middle November, the whole of the north-west region appears to be burning and the sky is filled with gases injurious to health.
  • This makes children and the elderly prone to sickness, which often proves fatal in many cases. With decline in visibility due to smog, road/rail accidents also take place frequently, snatching away thousands of lives.
  • Due to high levels of pollution in the air, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has been issuing directions to governments of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan to take concrete steps to check this menace.
  • The governments have been issuing orders to fine those farmers found burning crop residue. But, until now, these orders have been largely defied by farmers who find no other alternative to burning.
  • They hold the view that alternatives are costly. Zero tillage technology through the use of Happy Seeder machines or mixing of crop residue in the soil through mulching requires purchase of costly machines beyond their reach. The operation of these machines requires tractors with stronger horsepower than those possessed by most of the farmers.

Measures taken by government:

  • The Central government has initiated following steps to reduce and eradicate the stubble burning in the neighbouring states of NCR:
  • In the budget of the 2018-19, the central government had announced a special scheme’ to encourage farmers in these states to shift to alternative ways of dealing with agricultural waste.
  • In pursuance of the announcement in the budget, the government announced a central sector scheme on ‘Promotion of Agricultural Mechanization for In-Situ Management of Crop Residue in the States of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and NCT of Delhi’.
  • The scheme provides for in-situ crop residue management machinery to the farmers on subsidy, the establishment of Custom Hiring Centres (CHCs) of in-situ crop residue management machinery and undertaking Information, Education and Communication (IEC) activities for creating awareness among farmers to avoid stubble burning.
  • The Union Ministry of Power has brought out a policy for biomass utilization for power generation through co-firing in pulverized coal-fired boilers. The Ministry of Power has decided that the States of Haryana and Punjab shall issue bids for all coal based Thermal Power Plants to use a minimum of 5 per cent of biomass pellets and up to 10 per cent to be co-fired with coal.
  • The government is also taking steps to popularize zero tillage farming where the crop seed will be sown through drillers without prior land preparation and disturbing the soil where previous crop stubbles are present.
  • These measures have made a positive impact. The satellite data indicates that paddy residue burning events in 2018 have reduced by 29.5 per cent, 24.5 per cent and 11.0 per cent in the States of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, respectively when compared with the paddy residue burning events in the year 2018.
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