Context: The Punjab government has taken a resolute stance in its State Action Plan to curtail paddy stubble burning by a minimum of 50% compared to the previous year. This annual practice of burning crop residue, predominantly stemming from paddy harvesting, has become an entrenched issue in Northern India, with detrimental consequences for both the environment and public health.
Impact of Stubble Burning
- Environmental Effects:
- Elevation in air pollution due to smoke and soot particles.
- Intensive heat generation.
- Soil erosion and compaction.
- Agricultural Implications:
- Diminished organic content in the soil.
- Loss of vital nutrients and minerals.
- Detrimental effects on beneficial microorganisms.
- Health Consequences:
- Irritation of eyes, nose, throat, and skin.
- Elevated risk of severe neurological diseases.
- Increased incidence of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including asthma, bronchitis, and reduced lung capacity.
Initiatives to Curtail Stubble Burning
- Administrative Measures:
- Adoption of the National Policy for Management of Crop Residues (2014) by states.
- Establishment of biomass power projects and mandating coal plants in the National Capital Region (NCR) to use 50% paddy straw as supplementary fuel.
- Formation of the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) for enhanced pollution management in Delhi-NCR and surrounding areas.
- Promotion of crop diversification and short-duration, high-yielding rice varieties.
- Capacity building and awareness campaigns on the adverse effects of stubble burning.
- Legal Actions:
- Banning of crop residue burning in states like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Punjab by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2015.
- Classification of crop residue burning as a crime under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Air and Pollution Control Act of 1981.
- Imposition of fines and penalties by state governments for stubble burning.
- Technological Interventions:
- Deployment of machinery such as the Happy Seeder, Rotavators, Balers, Paddy Straw Chopper, and Reaper Binder for planting new crops and clearing stubble.
- Utilisation of Bio-Decomposer technology, developed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), to convert straw into organic manure.
- Promotion of alternative uses for stubble, including cattle feed, compost, roofing materials, mushroom cultivation, fuel, paper, bio-ethanol, and industrial production.
- Financial Incentives:
- Government subsidies for the use of machinery for in-situ crop residue management.
- Bonuses and incentives for farmers who shift to alternative crops instead of rice.
Challenges in Implementation
Several challenges have hindered the effective execution of these initiatives, including
- The Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act, 2009, which inadvertently shifted the timing of stubble burning to October-November, which coincides with Diwali and fall in temperatures across northern India.
- Mixed success of technological interventions due to cost and time constraints.
- Limitations of Bio-Decomposer technology during rainy periods.
- Administrative hurdles, given the sensitivity of agriculture and the presence of many small and marginal farmers.
- Political disputes that impede the imposition of fines despite court orders.
- Behavioural challenges, as some farmers lack awareness of the harmful effects of stubble burning.
- Insufficient Minimum Support Prices (MSP) for alternative crops, which hinder farmer’s diversification efforts.
To address these constraints and resolve the issue of stubble burning, India should consider:
- Establishment of Rice Bioparks, as suggested by M.S. Swaminathan, to help farmers convert rice stubble into income and employment.
- Improvement of infrastructure, including machinery availability and custom hiring centres.
- Creation of an efficient logistics system for collecting and transporting paddy straw to alternative use industries.
- Effective monitoring through the enforcement of the Polluter Pays principle, utilising drone technology and ISRO capabilities.
- Support for small and marginal farmers by providing essential amenities and raising awareness about the adverse effects of stubble burning and alternative straw utilisation.