Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation
Solving the issue of burning crop residue
The issue of crop residue burning, mainly in Punjab, remains unsolved continuing the harm to environment and farmers’ health.
Paddy is grown on an average area of around 30 lakh hectares in Punjab. After harvest, around 19.7 million tonnes of paddy straw is left in the fields and has to be disposed of to make way for wheat. Of this, 70-75% of paddy straw is burnt in open fields to clear the land for sowing wheat or other crops — it is the quickest and cheapest way of getting rid of the residue.
In 2015, the NGT was forced to stop the practice of stubble burning after thick smog enveloped the northern skies with the onset of autumn yet again, and acute respiratory problems were reported to be worsening in the national capital.
The NGT banned the burning of paddy straw in four States — Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh — and Delhi.
In its order, the tribunal fixed a penalty for burning paddy residue. The NGT also ordered State governments to take punitive action against persistent offenders.
It also directed the four States and Delhi to make arrangements to provide machinery free of cost to farmers with less than two acres of land, Rs. 5,000 to farmers with medium-sized land holdings, and Rs. 15,000 to those with large land holdings for residue management.
While the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) has been imposing penalties on farmers who have been found defying the ban, the farmers hardly seem deterred. As the government attempts to enforce the ban in the face of defiance, farmers have turned to guards to ensure that their work goes on unhindered.
Issues for farmers:
Time and cost are both crucial. Farmers have to prepare land to sow wheat in less number of days. Both machine and labor are difficult to find, for clearing the paddy straw, and will be a time-consuming effort.
To engage labour or machinery will cost somewhere between Rs. 4,000 and 5,000 per acre, which many farmers can’t afford.
Farmers in Punjab, especially small and marginal farmers, are already facing severe economic distress. To ask them to remove crop residue mechanically or through environment-friendly measures will only add to their misery.
The State government has failed to arrange for the equipment and machinery required for ploughing paddy straw into the fields.
Burning crop residue in the field kills friendly pests and damages soil fertility.
Besides disregard for the ban, with the support of several farmers’ unions, farmers have also cautioned the State government against taking stringent action against them. Several unions have made it clear that if police cases are registered against them, the government will have to face the consequences in the form of large-scale agitations.
Unless financial assistance is provided by the Centre for boosting farm mechanisation, it is difficult to completely stop stubble burning.
States needs to make alternative arrangements for consumption of paddy straw into the soil as per the directions of the NGT.
The State government needs to focus on crop diversification. Instead of paddy (common rice), basmati varieties of rice should be encouraged. Basmati is manually harvested, so the problem of crop residue can be largely curtailed. Also, farming of sugar cane and vegetables needs to be promoted.
Farmers need to understand that this practice will only damage their soil and farm in the long run and will result in loss of agriculture. While clearing the residue from the farm does add to the cost, benefits derived by not burning the crop residue are far more in the long run.
Paddy residue can be used as composting, besides as dry fodder for cattle.
To tackle the problem of paddy residue, the Ludhiana-based PAU is working on in situ decomposition of paddy (rice) straw, with microbial application and without mechanical effort. This approach will hold to reduce the cost of retaining the straw in the field for its benefits to the soil.
One of the ways to resolve the problem of stubble burning would be by generating power through biomass energy plants. The government should promote the setting up of biomass power plants. They will not only solve the problem of stubble burning but also generate electricity for the State. Punjab has a substantial availability of agro-waste, which is sufficient to produce about 1,000 MW of electricity, but the State government’s incentives for biomass-energy plants haven’t been enough.
The Happy Seeder- a machine developed by the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) to plant wheat directly into harvested paddy fields without any other major operation, and to promote the use of straw baler and straw management machines for residue management. In the machine, the straw is partly cut, chopped, and left as mulch. Mulch helps in reducing irrigation requirement and blocks the emergence of weeds. The crop planted with Happy Seeder is less prone to lodging. This is more profitable than conventional cultivation.
Unless the State government offers financial incentives to farmers they are compelled to burn the harvested crop’s residue. There are many ways to tackle the problem, but a ban is not one of them.
Connecting the dots:
The ban on burning of crop residues in Punjab to solve the issue of environmental pollution is welcome but not feasible. Critically analyse.
TOPIC: General Studies 2:
India and its International relations.
Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.
India soon to be a major player in Afghanistan
India must expand its development role further and enhance its security profile in Afghanistan.
India being viewed as a player:
The Trump administration’s South Asia policy has underscored India’s centrality in the ‘Af-Pak’ theatre. As Washington plans to increase its military footprint in Afghanistan, it is tightening the screws on Pakistan for supporting terrorism as an instrument of state policy.
Both Washington and Kabul now view New Delhi as a player with considerable leverage over the evolving regional dynamic.
A central feature of the Trump administration’s new Afghanistan policy is an outreach to India. “We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan, but India makes billions of dollars in trade with the U.S. and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development,” Mr. Trump had said in August while outlining his new South Asia policy.
Mr. Trump’s South Asia policy is a remarkable turnaround for Washington which had wanted to keep India out of its ‘Af-Pak’ policy for long for fear of offending Rawalpindi. India was viewed as part of the problem and now the Trump administration is arguing that India should be viewed as part of a solution to the Afghan imbroglio.
Kabul’s view on the strategy:
Kabul has wholeheartedly embraced this strategy, with Mr. Ghani terming it a “game-changer” for the region as it “recommends multi-dimensional condition-based approach for the region.”
In Delhi, he was categorical in attacking Pakistan by suggesting that “sanctuaries are provided, logistics are provided, training is provided, ideological bases are provided.”
He went on to suggest that Afghanistan would restrict Pakistan’s access to Central Asia if it is not given access to India through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. He referred to the Indo-Afghan air corridor as an effective response to Pakistan’s attempt to deny India and Afghanistan any direct access.
He also strongly rejected Islamabad’s claims that India was using Afghanistan as a base to destabilise Pakistan. He made it clear that there were “no secret agreements” between Kabul and New Delhi.
· US remarked Pakistan for not doing enough against terrorists operating from its soil.
· Afghanistan President has underlined that the time had come for Islamabad to make a choice between abandoning state sponsorship of terrorism and facing the consequences.
The messages sent to Pakistan shows that regional equations are shifting in a direction which will only isolate Islamabad if immediate corrective measures are not taken.
India has emphasised that it believes peace efforts in Afghanistan should be “Afghan-led” and “Afghan-controlled”.
India continues to maintain that renunciation of violence and terror, and closure of state-sponsored safe havens and sanctuaries remain essential for any meaningful progress and lasting peace.
Afghanistan had participated in the sixth Quadrilateral Coordination Group meeting along with the U.S., China and Pakistan in Muscat, Oman, in an attempt to revive stalled peace talks with the Taliban.
National Security Advisor Ajit Doval went to Kabul to assess these developments on the same day.
In recent years, India has not shied away from taking a high-profile role in Afghanistan.
It remains one of the biggest donors of aid to Afghanistan, having committed $3.1 billion since 2001.
Recently, it announced that it will be working on 116 new development projects in more than 30 areas. India’s agenda is to build the capacity of the Afghan state as well as of Afghan security forces, enabling them to fight their own battles more effectively. This is in line with the requirements of the Afghan government as well as the international community.
Expanding India’s development role further and enhancing its security profile with greater military assistance to Afghanistan should be a priority as new strategic opportunity open up in Afghanistan.
While the U.S. has its own priorities in the ‘Af-Pak’ theatre, India’s should be able to leverage the present opening to further its interests and regional security.
The recent developments in the region is a clear signal that India can no longer be treated as a marginal player in Afghanistan. This is a welcome change and holds significant implications for India, Afghanistan and the wider region.
Connecting the dots:
The U.S.’s new Afghanistan policy is an outreach to India. With Afghanistan support to the policy, India is surely to emerge as a major player in the region. Critically analyse.