Stubble Burning

GS 3 – ENVIRONMENT: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation.

Introduction 

       Stubble (parali) burning is the act of setting fire to crop residue to remove them from the field to sow the next crop.

  • In order to plant winter crop (Rabi crop), farmers in Haryana and Punjab have to move in a very short interval.
  • If they are late, due to short winters these days, they might face considerable losses.
  • Therefore, burning is the cheapest and fastest way to get rid of the stubble.
  • If parali is left in the field, pests like termites may attack the upcoming crop.
  • The precarious economic condition of farmers doesn’t allow them to use expensive mechanised methods to remove stubble.

Recently in News:

  • The Supreme Court(SC) in 2019, had directed the governments of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to pay farmers a financial incentive to curb the practice.
  • Which accounts for nearly 4-30% of daily pollutant concentration in Delhi’s air in the early winter months.
  • The SC appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority(EPCA)
    •  (an incentive of Rs 100 per quintal of grain—paid on top of the MSP during procurement by the Centre is “not viable”.)
    • Though such an incentive will likely encourage more farmers to refrain from burning crop stubble
    • in the long run, the government can’t keep bearing this burden.

Data:

  • 25%-30% contribution to the air pollution in the NCR.
    • From Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.
  • A study estimates that crop residue burning released:
    • carbon dioxide (CO2)-149.24 million tonnes
    • carbon monoxide (CO)-9 million tonnes
    • oxides of sulphur (SOX)-25 million tonnes
    • particulate matter-1.28 million tonnes
    • black carbon-0.07 million tonnes
  • Increase in cough was reported by 41.6% people
  • Wheezing-18%
  • Rural Punjab spend Rs 7.6 crore every year on treatment for ailments caused by stubble burning.
    • Study by the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru.

Reasons for Stubble Burning:

  • India is the third largest wheat producer and there is pressure on farmers to grow more crops.
  • we are not tracking soil health. 
  • Soil biology is not discussed much.
  • When it comes to wheat residue burning in Punjab, there is a problem with manual labour.
    • Migrant workers have stopped visiting the state.
    • Mismatch between manual labour required and its availability.
    • Most migrant workers leave in October- November and come back in May-June.
  • Burning of wheat stubble has been going on for decades.
    • Earlier, bulk of the harvesting was done manually.
    • Then the stubble used to be pulled out or ploughed back into the field.
  • With the increase in mechanised harvesting, longer stalks are left back.
    • require a longer time to decompose once ploughed back into the land.
    • farmers tend to burn the crop residue.
    • then plough the land.
  • Main problem behind crop burning is the rotational cropping system of rice and wheat.
  • Though wheat straw is suitable for animals, it is problematic.
    • to store huge volumes of straw in one part of the land.
    • difficult to transport it back to villages, as additional cost is incurred.
  • At the village level, there is also the problem of selling the husk
    • Absence of a proper rate for fodder.
    • Absence of market linkages is responsible.

Impact:

  • 15,000 deaths took place in the year 2016 in the NCR on account of air pollution.
  • Responsible for the haze in Delhi.
  • Melting of Himalayan glaciers.
  • Besides India, wheat stubble burning is an issue in China as well.
    • primarily happening in rice-wheat system areas where farmers have to go for transplanting of rice manually after wheat.
  • Small stubbles, if not managed properly, create obstacles to labourers in transplanting.
  • Stubbles accumulate in one area of the field and damage newly planted rice seedlings.

Way Forward

  • Both in-situ (in the field) and ex-situ (elsewhere) solutions need to be considered.(apart from tackling the fundamental factors prompting the practice.)
  • The view of experts is that in-situ management of the crop residue is beneficial to the soil organisms and has nutrient value.
  • Under a 100% centrally-funded scheme, machines that help farmers in in-situ management by tilling the stubble back into the soil.
    • to be provided to individual farmers at 50% subsidy.
    • to custom hiring centres (CHCs) at 80% subsidy.
  • The CHCs were to be under the oversight of village panchayats, primary agricultural cooperative societies and farmer producer organisations.
    • Haryana has set up CHCs and has provided nearly 16,000 straw-management machines.
    • Haryana has reserved 70% of the machines at panchayat-run CHCs for small and marginal farmers.
    • Punjab, which has provided and reach 41% of its panchayats by October 2020.
  • Both states, as the EPCA has pointed out, will need to formalise what farmers are to be charged.
  • Ex-situ solutions could include the purchase of the residue from farmers for the generation of ethanol, biogas.
  • Unless the Centre and the state governments accelerate efforts to reach farmers, this year too will be lost.

Conclusion 

       The long-term solution has to be crop diversification, away from paddy, but till the time the MSP-public procurement policies remain in place, it would be difficult to wean Punjab-Haryana farmers away from paddy meaningfully. If, instead of incentives, the state governments were to find a way to provide the service for free, there would likely be greater uptake.

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