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Stubble burning

Topics Covered: Conservation and pollution related issues.

Stubble burning

What to study?

For Prelims and Mains: Crop burning- why, concerns, effects on environment and health, their regulation and the need for a comprehensive policy on this.

Context: With wheat harvesting over in Punjab, the State has witnessed a spike in incidents of stubble burning against the last two years as several farmers continue to defy the ban on burning the crop residue.

The ban and action against the people burning the crop residue is regulated under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.

What the data show?

Government data show that across the State, between April 15 and May 24, 13,026 incidents of stubble burning have surfaced. Last year the number of such incidents during the same period was 10,476. In 2018, Punjab recorded 11,236 fire incidents.

What is stubble burning?

It is a common practice followed by farmers to prepare fields for sowing of wheat in November as there is little time left between the harvesting of paddy and sowing of wheat.

Impact: Stubble burning results in emission of harmful gases such carbon diaoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide along with particulate matter.

Why farmers opt for stubble burning?

  1. They do not have alternatives for utilising them effectively.
  2. The farmers are ill-equipped to deal with waste because they cannot afford the new technology that is available to handle the waste material.
  3. With less income due to crop damage, farmers are likely to be inclined to light up their fields to cut costs and not spend on scientific ways of stubble management.

 Advantages of stubble burning:

  1. It quickly clears the field and is the cheapest alternative.
  2. Kills weeds, including those resistant to herbicide.
  3. Kills slugs and other pests.
  4. Can reduce nitrogen tie-up.

Effects of Stubble Burning:

Pollution: Open stubble burning emits large amounts of toxic pollutants in the atmosphere which contain harmful gases like methane (CH4), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Volatile organic compound (VOC) and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. They may eventually cause smog.

Soil Fertility: Burning husk on ground destroys the nutrients in the soil, making it less fertile.

Heat Penetration: Heat generated by stubble burning penetrates into the soil, leading to the loss of moisture and useful microbes.

Alternative solutions that can avoid Stubble Burning:

  1. Promote paddy straw-based power plants. It will also create employment opportunities.
  2. Incorporation of crop residues in the soil can improve soil moisture and help activate the growth of soil microorganisms for better plant growth.
  3. Convert the removed residues into enriched organic manure through composting.
  4. New opportunities for industrial use such as extraction of yeast protein can be explored through scientific research.

What needs to be done- Supreme Court’s observations?

Incentives could be provided to those who are not burning the stubble and disincentives for those who continue the practice.

The existing Minimum Support Price (MSP) Scheme must be so interpreted as to enable the States concerned to wholly or partly deny the benefit of MSP to those who continue to burn the crop residue.

Chhattisgarh Model:

An innovative experiment has been undertaken by the Chhattisgarh government by setting up gauthans.

  1. A gauthan is a dedicated five-acre plot, held in common by each village, where all the unused stubble is collected through parali daan (people’s donations) and is converted into organic fertiliser by mixing with cow dung and few natural enzymes.
  2. The scheme also generates employment among rural youth.
  3. The government supports the transportation of parali from the farm to the nearest gauthan.
  4. The state has successfully developed 2,000 gauthans.

Sources: the Hindu.