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- Prelims – Environment
- Mains – GS 2 (Governance) and GS 3 (Environment)
Context: The monsoon has receded, and North India is bracing for a smoggy winter. And with that the feverish focus on crop stubble burning has returned to India’s public discourse.
- Like each year, discussions have begun on how bad this year’s stubble burning season will likely be and what potential ad hoc techno-fixes could solve the issue — in the short term.
About 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. Stubble burning 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.
- Along with vehicular emissions, it affects the Air Quality Index (AQI) in the national capital and NCR. Stubble burning by farmers in Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and Punjab in north India is considered a major cause of air pollution in Delhi and its adjoining regions.
- Paddy stubble burning is practised mainly in the Indo-Gangetic plains of Punjab, Haryana, and UP to clear the fields for rabi crop sowing.
Why this problem of stubble burning occurs?
- The root cause of stubble burning can be traced back to the 1960s-70s, when to meet the urgent challenge of feeding its rapidly growing population, India introduced several measures as part of its Green Revolution.
- The Green Revolution transformed the way agriculture was practised, especially in Punjab and Haryana. The economics of high-yielding varieties of paddy and wheat, supported by a guaranteed buyer (the government)and minimum support prices led to a crop duopoly oriented solely around increasing caloric intakes, supplanting the earlier diversity of crops grown in the region.
Introduction of subsidies:
- Further policy moves in subsequent decades, which included the introduction of subsidies for electricity and fertilizers, and ease of access for credit in agriculture only served to cement this duopoly.
- In an attempt to address the growing water crisis, the Punjab and Haryana governments introduced laws around water conservation, encouraging farmers to look to the monsoon rather than groundwater to irrigate their crops.
- The shortened harvesting season that arose resulting from a not clearly thought-out policy move brought about the need for farmers to rapidly clear their fields between the kharif and rabi crops; the quickest of these ways was to burn off the remaining stubble post-harvest.
Government Interventions to reduce crop residue burning:
Banning Crop Residue Burning:
- Crop residue burning was notified as an offence under the Air Act of 1981, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and various appropriate Acts.
- In addition, a penalty is being imposed on any offending farmer. Village and block-level administrative officials are being used for enforcement.
Establishment of a Marketplace for Crop Residue:
- Efforts are being made to increase the avenues for the alternate usage of paddy straw and other crop residue. For instance, paddy straw has a considerable calorific value, making it suitable for use as a fuel in biomass based power plants.
- Similarly, it can be utilised for the preparation of bio-fuels, organic fertilisers and in paper and cardboard making industries. The strategy, broadly, is to assign a real economic and commercial value to the agricultural residue and making burning it an economic loss to the farmer.
Public Awareness Campaigns:
- There are ongoing efforts to highlight the health effects of crop residue burning. It produces extremely high levels of toxic particulates, which affect the health of the people in the direct vicinity of the burning.
- In addition, efforts are also being made through kisan camps, trainings and workshops, apart from campaigns through various print media, televised shows and radio telecast, in informing farmers about the alternative usage of crop residue.
Subsidy on Agri-implements:
- The state governments, in collaboration with the Centre, has rolled out schemes for providing subsidy on mechanical implements that help tillage of soil, so that the crop residue can be retained in the soil, adding to its fertility, or alternately, collection of crop residue for putting it to commercial usage.
- There are various ongoing, long-term efforts at diversification of cropping techniques, such that crop residue burning can be effectively prevented. This is being attempted through cultivation of alternate crops (apart from rice/paddy and wheat) that produce less crop residue and have greater gap periods between cropping cycles.
- Pusa Decomposer, a microbial consortium of fungal species (both in liquid and capsule forms) developed by ICAR, has been found effective for rapid in-situ decomposition of paddy straw.
- The decomposers are in the form of capsules made by extracting fungi strains that help the paddy straw to decompose at a much faster rate than usual.
- It involves making a liquid formulation using decomposer capsules and fermenting it over 8-10 days and then spraying the mixture on fields with crop stubble to ensure speedy bio-decomposition of the stubble.
- It takes around 20 days for the degradation process to be completed.
- It does not give enough time for farmers to prepare fields for the wheat crop on time.
Crop Residue Management:
- The Centre introduced the Crop Residue Management (CRM) scheme in 2018-19, under which financial assistance @ 50 per cent is provided to the farmers for purchase of CRM machinery and @ 80 per cent to Cooperative Societies, FPOs and Panchayats for establishment of CHCs.
- The scheme promotes usage of machines such as Super Straw Management Systems, Happy Seeder, Super Seeder, Smart Seeder, zero till seed-cum-fertiliser drill, Mulcher, Paddy Straw Chopper, hydraulically reversible mould board plough, crop reapers and reaper binders.
- More recently, however, with concerted focus on the subject, a series of short-term ex-situ and in-situ solutions have been rolled out by the Union and State governments.
- Economic incentives to reduce burning have also been tested with limited success. With crores invested in these solutions over the last five years, we have yet to see any significant improvement in the situation.
- Driven largely by short-term thinking, these techno-fixes or alternative uses work at the margins, without addressing the root cause.
- The entire value-chain of agriculture in the region needs to change if air quality, water, nutrition, and climate goals are to be addressed.
- In practical terms, this means substantially reducing the amount of paddy being grown in the region and replacing it with other crops that are equally high-yielding, in-demand, and agro-ecologically suitable such as cotton, maize, pulses and oil seeds.
- It will also require building trust with farmers to ensure they are seen as partners (rather than perpetrators) and providing them the financial support necessary.
- At a policy level, it also requires recognising that agriculture, nutrition, water, the environment, and the economy are all deeply intertwined in the era of the Anthropocene. One cannot be addressed in a silo without having second and third order effects on the other.
Therefore, taking the long view on this would also mean establishing a mechanism for intersectoral policymaking that aligns our goals for sectorial policy within the broad frame of sustainable development we wish to follow.
Source: The Hindu