According to the latest report by Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM), there has been a significant reduction up to 70% in the number of instances reported for stubble burning in the state of Punjab, while there is an 18% reduction in the number of such cases in the adjoining state of Haryana.
In Punjab, there were 4216 such instances of stubble burning recorded during the period of 15th of September to 14th of October in the previous year. When compared to the current year, the number has reduced to 1286 in the corresponding period.
Similarly, as far as Haryana is concerned, the number of such instances of stubble burning was 596, which reduced to 487 incidents this year in the concerned period.
In the state of Uttar Pradesh, in which eight districts adjoining Delhi were taken into account, there have been 22 instances of stubble burning this year compared to 42 in the previous year.
However, before we jump to any conclusion, it is important to note that this report is based on preliminary analysis as the process of harvesting is still being carried out, as a result of which there is day to day variation in the number of fires.
Stubble Burning at a Glance
It is a common practice followed by the farmers, particularly prevalent in the region of Punjab, Haryana and some parts of western Uttar Pradesh. However, historically, the tribes in the northeastern states have been following this practice for ages. This cultivation method is called slash and burn farming which is popularly known as the Jhum cultivation in this region.
Under this, a farmer needs to prepare the fields for sowing of wheat, which is a major crop for the Rabi season in November, as there is little time left between harvesting paddy and sowing of wheat.
As a result of stubble burning, there is an emission of harmful gases such as Carbon dioxide (CO2), Sulphur dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and particulate matter into the atmosphere.
Why is this practice so prevalent?
The common to this question is that most farmers do not have any alternatives for utilizing them effectively. The farmers are ill-equipped to deal with waste. With less income due to crop damage, farmers are more likely to light up their fields to cut costs and not spend on scientific ways of stubble management.
Also, due to the socio-cultural aspect in India, most of the farmers are small and marginal farmers involved in subsistence farming. Since due to the large size of a family, the land is subject to partition generation after generation, which leads to a reduction in the size of the agricultural plot, therefore purchasing such costly equipment for managing stubble appears to be a foolish move when a matchstick and diesel worth few hundred rupees can get the job done.
Advantages of Stubble Burning
- It is possible to clear the field quickly and is the cheapest alternative compared to using labour to remove the residue from the fields.
- It also kills the weeds in the process, which would otherwise have required the application of herbicide and also kills those variants which would have become immune to the herbicide.
- It kills slugs and other pests.
- It can reduce nitrogen tie-up.
Effects of Stubble Burning
Open stubble burning emits a large number of toxic pollutants in the atmosphere, which contains harmful gases such as Methane (CH4), Carbon Monoxide (CO), volatile Organic Compound (VOC) and Carcinogenic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons. They may eventually cause the phenomenon of smog.
Therefore, the disadvantage of stubble burning outweighs the little monetary savings that stubble burning may provide. It not only leads to the degradation of the atmosphere but also has adverse effects upon the individuals causing several diseases, including chronic respiratory disease, which may also lead to death. It also forces the government to increase expenditure on tackling the climate crisis. Therefore, it not only leads to loss of financial capital but also human capital.
An alternative solution that can avoid Stubble Burning
- Promote paddy straw-based power plants – The residue of paddy can be used as raw material for power generation. Therefore, it can not only provide additional income to the farmers but also provide employment for the youth.
- Incorporation of crop residues in the soil – Instead of removing the crop, the residue should be left, which will increase soil fertility.
- Convert the removed residues into enriched organic manure through composting – Recently, PUSA discovered a solution that can convert the residue into manure within 6 – 8 days and which is also economical.
- Minimum Support Price (MSP) Scheme – The benefit of Minimum Support Price should only be given to those farmers who are not involved in stubble burning.
- Chhattisgarh Model – There is a system of gaudhan in Chhattisgarh where 6-7 villages comprise such units where stubble is collected and converted into manure. The farmers are entitled to the manure from these centers and can save their money for manure.