by Suman Gupta
Punjab and Haryana are large producers of rice (paddy) and contribute to the country’s food security. Paddy is a major Kharif season crop harvested during September / October. In order to prepare the land for the next season (Rabi) paddy farmers tend to burn the straw stubble that is left in the land post-harvest.
For paddy farmers, burning the stubble is an easy option as employing labour to physically remove the stubble is rather expensive. Burning of stubble in several tens of thousands of hectares creates massive pollution through smoke which drifts gradually to adjoining regions including Delhi. Stubble burning also results in loss of nutrients in the farmland.
The timing (beginning of the winter season) exacerbates the severity of the pollution problem. Other factors contributing to pollution in Delhi include heavy vehicular traffic.
There is a law that prohibits burning of stubble, but it is observed more in breach. Any punitive action against stubble burning runs the risk of escalating into a socio-political problem.
So, what is the remedy?
Continuous education of growers in Punjab and Haryana about the perils of stubble burning; and persuading them to adopt eco-friendly options;
MNREGA scheme can be used by government to help undertake manual collection of stubble / straw; this will generate employment and incomes for the needy rural population for a few weeks;
Harvesters can be employed to shred the crop residue into small pieces and spread thinly across the land; but the machines are expensive. To start with, the State government and /or the Central government can invest in adequate number of harvesters and deploy them judiciously/ appropriately;
The biomass thus collected can be converted into biofuel, which in turn can be used for farm operations;
In order to reduce grain mono-cropping (rice-wheat-rice cycle) in Punjab and Haryana, government can incentivize crop rotation or cultivation of legumes (pulses and certain oilseeds) in the Kharif season which will help fix soil nitrogen, and help reduce the quantum of paddy stubble;.
Political will and commitment to improve farm practices is necessary to bring about behavioral change among farmers.