New Delhi – Forty-eight year old Jagdeep Singh was among the farmers who burnt stubble after the harvest season. He said he owns eight acres of paddy fields and burnt the stubble that was generated from the entire area.
"This year the production was low and I had a lot of expenses to pay. Hiring a machine and tractor for the stubble would cost me around Rupees 2,500 per acre which was beyond my budget," Singh told BOOM.
Paddy straw burning in Punjab and Haryana, neighboring areas to the national capital, has been a major factor in high pollution levels during this season. Environmentalists said that farm fires add around forty percent to the pollution level of Delhi.
This year as per the data maintained by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), between September 15 and November 5, a total of 29,400 stubble burning events were detected in Punjab alone. It was followed by 2,530 farm fires in Haryana. The difference between the numbers in the respective states is remarkable.
Why is Punjab incidents burning way more stubble than Haryana?
Raman Deep Singh Mann, a food policy analyst and a member of Bhartiya Kisan Union told BOOM that Punjab has more paddy area than Haryana. Around 31,000 hectares of land is being used to cultivate paddies while Haryana has around 13,000.
"The other reason is that the Haryana government is more active in handling this issue than the Punjab government," he said. Maan said that the Haryana government is giving incentives to the farmer of rupees 1,000 for not burning the stubble and selling it to industrialists for converting it into fuel.
Such initiatives, he said, are missing in Punjab.
In 2018, the central government announced a scheme – CRM (Crop Residue Management). Under this scheme, a subsidy at the rate of 50 per cent of the cost of equipment, and at the rate of 80 per cent of the equipment cost is provided to individual farmers and farmer groups.
The analyst said that in Punjab itself around 122,000 CRM machines are with the farmers. However, he pointed out that even if a farmer is getting subsidy for the machines, the cost of operating these machines is expensive. This results in hundreds of farmers being reluctant in using those machines – hence preferring easy, cheaper methods like burning.
"Also small or marginal farmers can't even afford a 50 percent subsidy. They need to hire such machines. And the machines operate only with the high horsepower tractor, which small farmers don't have," he told BOOM.
Mann, who is also a farmer explained that in 2006, the Supreme Court ordered state governments including Punjab and Haryana to pay rupees 1,000 for one quintal as paddy sowing incentive. The incentives cover maximum expenses a farmer requires to decompose the stubble and sow a new crop in the fields.
He says that the policy has not been a reality. "If the government wants to eradicate the problem, they need to compensate the operating cost to a farmer. If they don't get it, this problem will never end."
Farm fires in Punjab are being widely criticized by the Central government. On November 2, Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav tweeted that there was no doubt that farm fires in Punjab had turned Delhi into a "gas chamber". The minister also highlighted how Haryana had seen a drop in such incidents.
Meanwhile, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has blamed the Centre for rising incidents of stubble burning in Punjab. Punjab's cumulative farm fire cases between the 15th of September and first of November in 2022 rose over 18 per cent, compared to the same period in 2021.
If Not Stubble Burning, What Are The Other Options For Farmers?
For farmers in Punjab and Haryana, the time window between the rice harvesting and wheat sowing is very short – 20-30 days. In this short window, a farmer needs to eradicate the stubble and make preparations for a new crop. To help them in managing the stubble and avoid it from getting burnt, the central government in 2018 framed the Center Sector Scheme.
The aim of this scheme is to address air pollution and to subsidize machinery required for management of crop residue in states like Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and others.
Under this scheme, the farmer has various equipments, machines available to avoid farm fires and convert the stubble into fuels or decompose. Machines like – Super Straw Management System (SMS) Happy Seeder, Straw Chopper, Rotary Slasher, etc. are the options to deal with the stubble.
For farmers like Singh, unless the cost of operating is covered by the government, small farmers will opt to burn stubble rather than decomposing it.
How Has Haryana Reduce Stubble Burning?
In 2016, around 15,686 farm fires were recorded in Haryana. Since then, the state has tried to control the farm fires incidents and in 2020, the figures were brought down to 4,202.
This year, a total of 2,440 farm fires cases have been recorded and compared to 3,666 total cases recorded in 2021 – a 33 percent dip over last year.
BOOM spoke to farmers in Haryana who said that they are producing basmati crop which is being cultivated manually. The hand cutting of the crop leaves no stubble while in non-basmati varieties, the stubble remains due to machines cutting.
According to Haryana officials data, this year, the paddy cultivation was spread across 34.35 lakh acres. Out of which basmati was grown in over 18 lakh acres and non-basmati varieties in 16.26 lakh acres.
The officials in a press meeting shared said that a total quantity of around 70 lakh metric tonnes of straw will be generated. The officials said that since basmati is harvested manually, the total crop waste to be managed was expected to be around 40 lakh MT.
Hence, the agriculture department has set the target to tackle 23 lakh MT stubble with in-situ management (machinery/decomposer) and 13 lakh MT stubble with ex-situ management (in industries).
Environmentalist Ajay Mital Ajay Mittal, Director, India and South Asia (Climate Change Programs), for Earthday said that Delhi has to take many positive measures to control pollution -- one of them is to end stubble burning in the neighbouring states.
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