fall-in-stubble-burning-incidents-in-punjab-haryana-says-panel

Context: According to a report by the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM), there is a 70% reduction so far in instances of stubble burning in Punjab and 18% in Haryana from last year.

Background

  • The CAQM made a similar observation last week reporting that a 7% decrease in the area allotted to paddy and moving crops away from the popular variety PUSA 44 (that leaves behind more stubble in its wake) along with measures by the governments of Punjab and Haryana were likely to reduce fire count instances.

Key Highlights of the report of the CAQM

  • In 2020 Punjab, there were 4,216 instances of stubble burning from September 15 to October 14. 
    • This dropped to 1,286 in the corresponding period this year. 
    • There were 487 incidents this year compared with 596 last year.
  • In eight districts of Uttar Pradesh, there were 22 instances of burning this year compared with 42 last year.
  • This report, however, is a preliminary analysis as harvesting is still under way and the day-to-day variation in the number of fires is extremely high.
  • PGIMER, Chandigarh, monitors data from a NASA satellite that can detect thermal radiation, while comparing data till October 15 in Haryana states, 
    • There’s an increase in fires by 24% and till October 13 — a 30% decrease in fires. 
    • Similarly, in Punjab, a comparison till October 15 shows a reduction by 5%, whereas till October 13 it was a reduction of 67%. 
  • There would be a decrease in fires this year because of a decrease in the area allotted to paddy sowing this year.

Key deciding factors of stubble burning intensity

  • There are several initiatives taken such as the increased use of happy seeder [harvesting equipment] and the use of bio-decomposers but this will take time for results to show. 
    • Also, it is important to underline that meteorological conditions play a significant role in worsening pollution.
  • Over the years it has been observed that fire counts increase when there is too little time between the paddy being ready for harvesting and the right time to sow wheat. 
    • This year, excessive moisture in northern India due to an overhanging monsoon and a delay in the markets opening for trading, may further squeeze the time available for farmers to harvest and sow, further forcing them to set their fields alight.
  • Of the total 1,795 sites where burning had been reported, 663 fields had been inspected by officials and fines, or “environmental compensation” as they are called, were imposed on 252.

About Stubble Burning:

  • It is the practice of burning of the residual crop, mainly paddy, before the sowing of rabi crops in the northern part of India (Punjab and Haryana) in order to make the soil more fertile and clear the land.

Impact:

  • Air pollution: It results in emission of harmful gases such carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide along with particulate matter.
  • It adversely affects the environment and public health. For example, one of the associated reasons for clouds of smog choking NCR of Delhi is stubble burning in neighbouring states of Punjab,Rajasthan,Haryana,UP.

Why do farmers opt for stubble burning?

  • Have no alternatives for utilising crop residue/stubble effectively.
  • Farmers are ill-equipped: To deal with waste because they cannot afford the new technology that is available to handle the waste material.
  • Cost cutting: Because of  less income due to crop damage, farmers are likely to be inclined to burn residue to cut costs and not spend on scientific ways of stubble management.
  • It quickly clears the field and kills weeds, slugs and other pests including those resistant to herbicide.
  • Stubble burning can also reduce nitrogen tie-up.

Concerns:

  • The rice-wheat rotation: Extensive development of irrigation, assured price (minimum support price) and secured market (government procurement) have induced farmers to grow paddy resulting in depletion of soil nutrients, decline in water table, build-up of pests and diseases, and micronutrient deficiency.
  • No alternatives: Rice straw is not used as fodder as it is found to be non-palatable to animals due to its high silica content so farmers are prompted to burn it on the field instead of incurring a high cost of collecting it.
  • Faulty machines: The combine harvester machine leaves the residues in such a state that it is difficult to collect them manually.
  • Crop diversification with vegetables and fruits hit a roadblock due to marketing problems.
  • Ignoring biomass energy: Punjab and Haryana have not made much progress in creating biomass-based power generation plants.

Govt. initiatives: Punjab govt. helps farmers to buy subsidised equipment such as Happy Seeder, Paddy Straw Chopper/Cutter, Mulcher, RMB Plough, Shrub Cutter, Zero Till Drill, Super Straw Management System on Combine Harvesters, Rotary Slasher and Rotavator.

  • To check stubble burning this kharif season, the Punjab government has appointed 8,000 nodal officers in villages that grow paddy. 
  • Also, the crop residue management machines are being given to farmers for on-site management of straw.
  • Gauthans: Chhattisgarh has already undertaken an innovative experiment by setting up gauthans.
  • A gauthan is a dedicated five-acre plot, held in common by each village, where all the unused parali (stubble) is collected through parali daan (people’s donations).It is then converted into organic fertiliser by rural youth.
  • Judicial intervention: National Green Tribunal fixed the environment penalties at Rs. 2,500 per incident of stubble burning.

Way forward

  • Improve soil productivity: Adding crop residues in the soil can improve soil moisture and help activate the growth of soil microorganisms for better plant growth.
    • Initiatives can also be made to convert the removed residues into enriched organic manure through composting.
    • Compensating farmers 
    • Crop diversification with vegetables and fruits
  • Promoting use of various techniques such as Happy Seeder machine, Combine Harvester
  • Incentivising biomass-based power plants in Punjab and Haryana 
  • Wealth from the stubble: There is great potential for making investments in paddy straw-based power plants which can help avoid stubble burning to a large extent and also create employment opportunities.
  • Generation of organic manure: The removed residues can be converted into enriched organic manure through composting.
  • Industrial use: Like extraction of yeast protein can be explored through scientific research.

Related Facts

About Pusa Decomposer

  • The decomposer, developed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), was sprayed to prevent the practice of stubble burning to clear the field after a paddy harvest, before sowing the next crop.
  • Mechanism of decomposer:
    • Water is boiled with jaggery, allowed to cool, and then mixed with gram flour and capsules containing fungi. 
    • The vessels are then covered with muslin cloth for three-four days to allow the fungi to grow. 
    • Once sprayed, the microbes in the solution act on the stubble and turn it into compost that can be mixed with the soil.
    • One acre of land requires around 10 litres of the solution, and it can take around 10 days to prepare the solution.
    • Benefits: Carbon and nitrogen content in the soil increased as a result of spraying the decomposer.
      • The decomposer is expected to benefit farmers who harvest in ways that leave substantial residue on the field, like using combine harvesters.

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