RELEVANCE TO UPSC SYLLABUS:GS3: ENVIRONMENT: CONSERVATION, ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION, AGRICULTURAL PRODUCE AND ISSUES
THE CONTEXT: Stubble burning by farmers in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh (UP) creates seasonal pollution in northern India. This situation is very serious in northwest India and critical in the National Capital Territory Region.
WHAT IS STUBBLE BURNING?
Stubble (parali) burning is a method of removing paddy crop residues from the field to sow wheat from the last week of September to November.
- It is a process of setting on fire the straw stubble, left after the harvesting of grains, like paddy, wheat, etc.
- It is usually required in areas that use the combined harvesting method which leaves crop residue behind.
- The process of burning farm residue is one of the major causes of air pollution in parts of north India, deteriorating the air quality.
- The rice stubble burning is highest in the state of Punjab followed by Haryana, whereas Uttar Pradesh ranks higher in wheat stubble burning.
Dry fodder: Till a few decades ago, crop residue, including stubble, was used as dry fodder for livestock or as fuel for the kitchen or incorporated in-situ in soil. It wasn’t burnt, at least not on a large scale.
During the 1990’s: Things started changing in the 1990s. Two factors contributed:
- Free or highly subsidised power supply for groundwater extraction.
- Power supply to the farm sector in Punjab has been free since 1997, while in Haryana, it is subsidised.
- With access to assured irrigation, paddy acreages in Punjab grew from 50 per cent of the net sown area in the mid-1990s to 75 per cent in recent years.
- In Haryana, this jumped from 30 per cent to 40 per cent.
- In the absence of cheap labour, machines like the Combined Harvester appeared:
- Paddy harvesting and threshing are labour-intensive and this pushed up the demand for labour.
- This machine only picked the plant’s top part (panicle) and left the remaining stalk of about 2-3 feet (stubble) standing in the field.
- Clearing this stalk required a separate round of harvesting, collection and disposal and the easy solution was to set it on fire.
- Manual harvesting: In Manual harvesting, stalks are harvested close to the ground. They were later collected at one place and grain was recovered through manual beating.
- The remaining stalk was piled in a corner of the field where it decomposed slowly.
- This occupied a small area and farmers did not mind sparing that for storage of paddy straw.
- There have been incidences of stubble burning wherever a combined harvester has been used.
- Such incidents are being reported from paddy fields in central and eastern Indian states as well.
Pollution: Stubble burning emits toxic pollutants in the atmosphere containing harmful gases like:
- Carbon Monoxide (CO), methane (CH4), carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds (VOC).
- These pollutants disperse in the surroundings and eventually affect air quality and people’s health by forming a thick blanket of smog.
Soil fertility: Soil becomes less fertile and its nutrients are destroyed when the husk is burned on the ground.
Heat penetration: Stubble burning generates heat that penetrates into the soil, causing an increase in erosion, loss of useful microbes and moisture.
Silica content in paddy straw: Paddy straw has high silica content and is not preferred as animal feed. If ploughed back into the field, it interferes with subsequent crop operations. Only some farmers use farm machines like happy seeder and straw management machines to incorporate the stubble back into the soil instead of setting it on fire.
- Applying a decomposer to encourage in-situ management of stubble.
- Using the direct seeding of rice (DSR) technique.
Baling machines (balers) for paddy straw: These machines are already in use in Punjab and Haryana, which has made it feasible to put paddy and other crop straws in the value chain.
- The total cost of procuring the entire stubble burnt in the field in Punjab comes to Rs 2,000 crore and, in Haryana, about Rs 1,000 crore.
Production of biofuel: A small market for paddy straw sold in compact bales has already emerged in both the states (Haryana and Punjab) for production of biofuel such as Bio CNG and ethanol and as direct fuel in brick kilns, furnaces, and thermal plants. Some enterprising farmers have sold parali(stubble) at Rs 180 per quintal this season.
MEASURES TO REDUCE POLLUTION DUE TO STUBBLE BURNING:
The Commission on Air Quality Management in NCR and Adjoining Areas (CAQM) has developed a framework and action plan:
In-situ Crop Residue Management: CRM machines procurement, setting up of Custom Hiring Centers, high yield and short duration paddy varieties, staggering of harvesting schedule, extensive use of bio-decomposer by IARI.
Ex-situ Crop Residue Management: Biomass Power Projects, Co-firing in Thermal Power Plants, Feed stock for 2G Ethanol plants, Feed stock in Compressed Biogas plant, fuel in industrial boilers, WTE plants, packaging materials etc.
- Prohibition of stubble /crop residue burning.
- Effective monitoring /enforcement.
- Schemes to reduce the generation of paddy straw.
- IEC activities for the plan of action.
- Standard protocol for recording and monitoring of fire counts.
THE WAY FORWARD:
Finding an alternative to paddy: An alternative crop like maize will also produce large amounts of stubble like paddy, and only a small part of that will have demand as dry fodder.
Reducing the duration of the rice crop: It is believed that early harvest would leave a longer period for the next crop. It would address the farm-fire problem. It will mitigate the environmental problem to a small extent.
Rethinking the policy: Rethinking the policy of providing free power. This is also needed to avert the over-exploitation of groundwater.
Direct Cash/benefit transfer (DBT): A simple shift to a metered supply of power will not be acceptable without compensating farmers’ income for the cost of power. One possibility is to give a direct cash/benefit transfer (DBT) instead of a power subsidy. By indexing the DBT amount to inflation in power tariffs, this amount can grow annually and remain relevant for farmers. This will make diversification away from paddy feasible.
Creating a market: Create a market for paddy straw/stubble. Unless stubble is made valuable for farmers, they will continue to burn it. We need to create an effective market for stubble that at least compensates them for the extra effort and cost involved in its harvest, collection and disposal.
Subsidised supply of machinery: Further modifications and subsidised supply of machinery for in-situ use of paddy stubble will also be very helpful in preventing farm fires in some areas.
Happy seeder: Mounted on a tractor, this machine is used to cut and lift straw, sow wheat and rice in soil and deposit straw over the sown area, instead of burning the stubble.
Law against the burning: A law against the burning of any crop straw should be strictly enforced.
THE CONCLUSION: With market avenues for crop residue, legal backing against polluting practices and administrative support, the proposed system can work to prevent stubble burning while saving the health of millions of lives and contributing to the economy.
PREVIOUS YEAR QUESTIONS:
- Q) What are the major reasons for declining rice and wheat yield in the cropping system? How crop diversification is helpful to stabilize the yield of the crop in the system? (2017)
- Q) How do subsidies affect the cropping pattern, crop diversity and economy of farmers? What is the significance of crop insurance, minimum support price and food processing for small and marginal farmers? (2017)
MAINS PRACTICE QUESTION:
- Q) Comment upon the various measures taken by the Union and the state governments to address the problem of stubble burning. What more needs to be done according to you to find a permanent solution to this problem? Explain
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