Topic: General Studies 2,3:
- Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Context: In 2019, Haryana farmers burnt nearly a fifth of the paddy stubble generated by them, while Punjab farmers burnt nearly half of what they generated.
What is Stubble Burning?
- Stubble burning is the act of setting fire to crop residue to remove them from the field to sow the next crop
- It is a traditional practice in Punjab and Haryana to clean off the rice chaff to prepare the fields for winter sowing
- It begins around October and peaks in November, coinciding with the withdrawal of southwest monsoon.
- On December 10, 2015, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had banned crop residue burning in the states of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab
Environmental Risks associated with Stubble burning
- Air Pollution: A study estimates that crop residue burning released 149.24 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), over 9 million tonnes of carbon monoxide (CO), 0.25 million tonnes of oxides of sulphur (SOX), 1.28 million tonnes of particulate matter and 0.07 million tonnes of black carbon.
- Responsible for the haze in Delhi: Crop burning contributed nearly 40% of the near-surface PM 2.5 in Delhi in 2016, which saw one of Delhi’s severest pollution episode
- Soil Fertility: The heat from burning paddy straw penetrates 1 centimetre into the soil, elevating the temperature to 33.8 to 42.2 degree Celsius. This kills the bacterial and fungal populations critical for a fertile soil. The solubility capacity of the upper layers of soil has also been reduced.
- Pests in atmosphere: Burning of crop residue causes damage to other micro-organisms present in the upper layer of the soil as well as its organic quality. Due to the loss of ‘friendly’ pests, the wrath of ‘enemy’ pests has increased and as a result, crops are more prone to disease.
Supreme Court on Stubble Burning
- The Supreme Court, in November 2019, had directed the governments of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to pay farmers a financial incentive to curb the practice
- In 2019, the Punjab government paid Rs 28.51 crore to 31,231 farmers, while Haryana’s paid Rs 1.63 crore to 4,000. This year, the Haryana government expects to pay as much as Rs 301 crore.
- However, Supreme Court appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority, or EPCA, is right in saying that an incentive of Rs 100 per quintal of grain—paid on top of the MSP during procurement by the Centre—is “not viable”.
How have governments tried to solve the issue?
- Union Government: Under a 100% centrally-funded scheme, machines that help farmers in in-situ management—by tilling the stubble back into the soil—were to be provided to individual farmers at 50% subsidy and to custom hiring centres (CHCs) at 80% subsidy.
- While Haryana has set up 2,879 CHCs so far and has provided nearly 16,000 straw-management machines, it has to set up 1,500 more and has to cover nearly as many panchayats it has reached so far.
- Similarly, Punjab, which has provided 50,815 machines so far, will need to set up 5,000 more CHCs—against 7,378 set up already—and reach 41% of its panchayats by October 2020.
- Short term Solution: Giving farmers easy and affordable access to the machines which allow them to do smart straw management is the short term solution to the problem
- Dual Strategy: Both in-situ (in the field) and ex-situ (elsewhere) solutions need to be considered, apart from tackling the fundamental factors prompting the practice.
- Affordability of Government Measures: A key factor will be ensuring affordability of service for those hiring the machines; Haryana has reserved 70% of the machines at panchayat-run CHCs for small and marginal farmers, while Punjab has prioritised service to them.
- Utilizing Crop Stubble: Instead of burning of the stubble, it can be used in different ways like cattle feed, compost manure, roofing in rural areas, biomass energy, mushroom cultivation, packing materials, fuel, paper, bio-ethanol and industrial production, etc.
- The long-term solution has to be crop diversification, away from paddy
Connecting the dots:
- Ashok Dalwai Committee on Doubling Farmers income