Prelims level : Environment- Pollution & Waste Management Mains level : GS-III- Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
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  • A new study has found that farmers in north India can not only help reduce air pollution but also improve the productivity of their soil and earn more profits if they stop burning their crop residue and instead adopted the concept of no-till farming.

Why Farmers Burn Stubble?

  • Farmers usually burn the paddy straw after combine harvesters leave a 7-8 inch stubble on the field following harvest, and farmers have to prepare the field for planting of wheat crop in two to three weeks.
  • As the straw cannot be fed to cattle, the way out is on-field management of stubble by using machines such as straw management system, mulchers, rotavators and happy seeders. The central and state governments have announced 50-80% subsidy on purchase of these machineries but have seen limited success.
  • The machinery is very expensive despite the subsidy and manufacturers raised prices after these subsidies were announced,”

Advantages of stubble burning:

  • It quickly clears the field and is the cheapest alternative.
  • Kills weeds, including those resistant to herbicide.
  • Kills slugs and other pests.
  • Can reduce nitrogen tie-up.

Penal Provision Against Burning Stubble:

  • Burning crop residue is a crime under Section 188 of the IPC and under the Air and Pollution Control Act of 1981.

Supreme Court’s Observation:

  • The problem is required to be resolved by taking all such measures as are possible in the interest of public health and environment protection.
  • Incentives could be provided to those who are not burning the stubble and disincentives for those who continue the practice.
  • The existing Minimum Support Price (MSP) Scheme must be so interpreted as to enable the States concerned to wholly or partly deny the benefit of MSP to those who continue to burn the crop residue.

New Study:

  • Direct seeding of wheat into unplowed soil and with rice residues left behind was the best option.
  • It saved on water, labour and use of agro-chemicals, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and improved soil health and crop yield and thus benefitting both farmers and the society at large.

Happy Seeder:

  • The Happy Seeder option will eliminate air pollution by crop burning and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from on-farm activities by more than 78 per cent relative to all burning options.
  • The Happy Seeder-based systems are on average 20 per cent more profitable than the most common ‘burnt’ systems and almost 10 per cent more than the most profitable burning options, found the study.

What is Happy Seeder:

  • Happy Seeder is a tractor-mounted device. It cuts and lifts the residue of previous crop (in this case the rice straw) and sows a new crop (wheat) in its place.
  • It is a direct sowing machine that is capable of seeding for the new wheat crop even in presence of the rice straw residues on the soil surface without any tillage.
  • To add to the benefit for the farmers, they can deploy the system immediately after the harvest of the rice crop. It deposited the straw over the sown area as much.

What government did last year:

  • Package of policies put in place by the Government of India last year to stop farmers from burning their crop residue.
  • The package includes a $166 million subsidy to promote mechanisation to manage crop residues in fields.

Other Solutions:

  • Farmers can also manage crop residues effectively by employing agricultural machines like:
    • Happy Seeder (used for sowing of crop in standing stubble)
    • Rotavator (used for land preparation and incorporation of crop stubble in the soil)
    • Zero till seed drill (used for land preparations directly sowing of seeds in the previous crop stubble)
    • Baler (used for collection of straw and making bales of the paddy stubble)
    • Paddy Straw Chopper (cutting of paddy stubble for easily mixing with the soil)
    • Reaper Binder (used for harvesting paddy stubble and making into bundles)
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