[Editorial] Checking Stubble Burning

Stubble burning in India:

  • Stubble burning is the practice of clearing the agricultural field off of crop stubble by burning them.
  • It is a quick method that caters to the farmers facing limited time between the Kharif paddy harvest and Rabi wheat sowing periods.
  • It is also a cost effective method that has the added advantage of eliminating pests and weeds.
  • However, stubble burning causes significant air pollution which engulfs parts of north India in dense fog– every year in October and November. This period coincides with stubble burning in the farms of Punjab, Haryana and UP.
  • The practice also negatively impacts soil health in the long run.

How has the government been tackling the issue?

  • A National Policy for Management of Crop Residue was developed by the agriculture ministry in 2014.
  • Stubble burning was banned in Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, UP and Delhi by the NGT in 2015.
  • Stubble burning was an offence under IPC Section 188 and under Air and Pollution Control Act, 1981. However, the government decriminalized it recently.
  • Central Scheme on Promotion of Agricultural Mechanisation for In-Situ Management of Crop Residue was launched in 2018-19. The power ministry has made it mandatory for some coal-fired thermal power plants to use biomass pellet to enable utilization of agricultural wastes that would have otherwise been burnt by farmers.
  • Several state governments have taken measures. Eg: the Delhi government’s use of PUSA bio-decomposer formula.
  • More than 1.5 lakh crop residue management machines were supplied to farmers and CHC (custom hiring centres) between 2018-19 and 2020-21.

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Did these measures work?

  • There has been a drop in the number of stubble burning events between 2016 and 2019. However, this decline has been slow.
  • 2020 saw a drastic spike in residue burning events in states like Punjab and Madhya Pradesh.
  • The satellite data shows a 50% drop in stubble burning incidents in UP, Punjab and Haryana, in October this year. However, upon including November’s stubble burning events, this decline reduces to 8%.
  • This temporary decline in October was due to the delay in monsoon withdrawal. It is also evident from the fact that the 3 states recorded some 5,728 residue burning events on 5th November- which is more than the highest number recorded in a single day in 2020.
  • This shows that the practice is continuing despite various initiatives by the government.
  • Agriculture is a sensitive political issue and hence there has been inadequate political will in enforcing ban on stubble burning.
  • There is a low utilization of residue management machinery as their purchase or renting such machines is considered as an additional expense by the farmers.
  • A J-PAL South Asia study found that farmers prefer ex-situ methods of crop residue management using equipment like balers rather than in-situ machinery.

What could be done?

  • Subsidizing operational costs and providing capital subsidy on crop residue management equipment for the farmers.
  • This can be combined with monetary incentives to encourage zero burning practices.
  • Schemes could be designed based on the use of ex-situ management of crop residue and biomass products like bales and pellets for power generation. These products could also be used as supplementary feedstock in coal-fired thermal power plants.
  • Local civil society organizations should be roped in for awareness creation. Trust building exercises can help too.
  • As the practice of stubble burning is concentrated in certain regions within states, a cluster-based approach could be used i.e. districts with high number of residue burning events could be identified and the government interventions could specifically target these regions.
  • The coverage under central schemes needs to be reassessed. For example, Madhya Pradesh accounts for the 2nd highest number of stubble burning events and yet isn’t covered by the scheme.
  • A robust monitoring system needs to be formulated to monitor the prevalence and intensity of stubble burning and also the progress of schemes at local level.
  • Farmers who resort to stubble burning inspite of availing the benefits under various interventions should be warned of consequences like exclusion from schemes and loss of access to credit subsidy. A dynamic monitoring system is needed here too.

Conclusion:

Stubble burning can be checked by monitoring the implementation of policy. A targeted approach that focuses on stubble burning clusters could improve the performance of the schemes.

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