Crop Residue Burning
The issue of crop residue burning, mainly in Punjab, is in news, continuing the harm to environment and farmers’ health.
Paddy is grown on an average area of around 30 lakh hectares in Punjab.
After harvest, around 19.7 million tonnes of paddy straw is left in the fields and has to be disposed of to make way for wheat.
Of this, 70-75% of paddy straw is burnt in open fields to clear the land for sowing wheat or other crops —
it is the quickest and cheapest way of getting rid of the residue.
Burning crop residue in the field kills friendly pests and damages soil fertility.
In 2015, the NGT was forced to stop the practice of stubble burning after thick smog enveloped the northern skies with the onset of autumn yet again, and acute respiratory problems were reported to be worsening in the national capital.
The NGT banned the burning of paddy straw in four States — Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh — and Delhi.
In its order, the tribunal fixed a penalty for burning paddy residue. The NGT also ordered State governments to take punitive action against persistent offenders.
It also directed the four States and Delhi to make arrangements to provide machinery free of cost to farmers with less than two acres of land,
Rs. 5,000 to farmers with medium-sized land holdings, and Rs. 15,000 to those with large land holdings for residue management.
While the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) has been imposing penalties on farmers who have been found defying the ban, the farmers hardly seem deterred.
As the government attempts to enforce the ban in the face of defiance, farmers have turned to guards to ensure that their work goes on unhindered.
Issues for farmers:
• Time and cost are both crucial. Farmers have to prepare land to sow wheat in less number of days. Both machine and labor are difficult to find, for clearing the paddy straw, and will be a time-consuming effort.
• To engage labour or machinery will cost somewhere between Rs. 4,000 and 5,000 per acre, which many farmers can’t afford.
• Farmers in Punjab, especially small and marginal farmers, are already facing severe economic distress. To ask them to remove crop residue mechanically or through environment-friendly measures will only add to their misery.
• The State government has failed to arrange for the equipment and machinery required for ploughing paddy straw into the fields.
• Besides disregard for the ban, with the support of several farmers’ unions, farmers have also cautioned the State government against taking stringent action against them. Several unions have made it clear that if police cases are registered against them, the government will have to face the consequences in the form of large-scale agitations.
• Unless financial assistance is provided by the Centre for boosting farm mechanisation, it is difficult to completely stop stubble burning.
• States needs to make alternative arrangements for consumption of paddy straw into the soil as per the directions of the NGT.
• The State government needs to focus on crop diversification. Instead of paddy (common rice), basmati varieties of rice should be encouraged. Basmati is manually harvested, so the problem of crop residue can be largely curtailed. Also, farming of sugar cane and vegetables needs to be promoted.
• Farmers need to understand that this practice will only damage their soil and farm in the long run and will result in loss of agriculture. While clearing the residue from the farm does add to the cost, benefits derived by not burning the crop residue are far more in the long run.
• Paddy residue can be used as composting, besides as dry fodder for cattle.
• To tackle the problem of paddy residue, the Ludhiana-based PAU is working on in situ decomposition of paddy (rice) straw, with microbial application and without mechanical effort. This approach will hold to reduce the cost of retaining the straw in the field for its benefits to the soil.
• One of the ways to resolve the problem of stubble burning would be by generating power through biomass energy plants. The government should promote the setting up of biomass power plants. They will not only solve the problem of stubble burning but also generate electricity for the State. Punjab has a substantial availability of agro-waste, which is sufficient to produce about 1,000 MW of electricity, but the State government’s incentives for biomass-energy plants haven’t been enough.
• The Happy Seeder- a machine developed by the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) to plant wheat directly into harvested paddy fields without any other major operation, and to promote the use of straw baler and straw management machines for residue management. In the machine, the straw is partly cut, chopped, and left as mulch. Mulch helps in reducing irrigation requirement and blocks the emergence of weeds. The crop planted with Happy Seeder is less prone to lodging. This is more profitable than conventional cultivation.
Unless the State government offers financial incentives to farmers they are compelled to burn the harvested crop’s residue. There are many ways to tackle the problem, but a ban is not one of the