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Stubble Burning: Scapegoat or Harbinger of Worse Times? - Taranjot Singh and Vashishth Marwaha

Updated: Nov 24, 2021

Stubble Burning is an issue which has been continuing to exist for quite some time now, especially in the northern part of the country. The leftover of harvested crops is burnt in order to get the field ready for the next crop’s sowing. This has been the root cause for all the claims of stubble burning causing the pollution levels to rise astronomically in north India. The consequences include (but are not limited to) adverse effects on the vitality of humans as well as soil. Stubble burning also causes loss of essential nutrients which enhance the yield of next harvest.

There are number of factors due to which farmers choose to burn the residue. Simply put, an average Indian Farmer does not have the resources to avail the services/equipment required for the same.[1] The land holdings for farmers in India are generally small. For the same reason, they are not able to buy HYV seeds available in market and hence use the earlier harvest to sow the crop next season and as a result, their output decreases with each harvest.

Concentration of pollutant particles tends to increase at an enormous rate, particularly during the harvest and post-harvest seasons. Vehicular emissions, bursting of firecrackers, burning of garbage, biomass, organic waste and Municipal Solid Waste, landfill fires are also causes for poor air quality.

India has a number of legislations in relation to pollution control. Furthermore, Article 51A of the Constitution of India states that every citizen has a duty to protect the environment. At the state level, the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) oversees the policy making to control the pollution in the state of Punjab.[2] What all this suggests is that there might be laws in place, but what is lacking is their effective implementation. Moreover, a concrete policy on dealing with pollution emanating from stubble burning has still not been effectively applied, especially in northern India.

One of the major causes of the controversy related to stubble burning is that it is a significant contributor to air pollution in the capital city of Delhi and the surrounding region. About 92 million tonnes of crop residue is burnt all over the country[3], but only Punjab and Haryana are held culprits year after year, because of the wind direction. The National Policy for Management of Crop Residues states that the stubble burning happens predominantly in four states - Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh (UP) and West Bengal. The largest producer of Crop Residue is Uttar Pradesh, and hence burns the largest amount of it as well. The advent of monsoon replaces the easterly winds with north-easterly and westerly flow of winds, which in turn drives the smoke towards the national capital region (NCR). Delhi, Gurugram, Faridabad and Greater Noida are relatively low-altitude cities, which causes the pollutants to gather in a one large hollow/bowl constituting the NCR and the surrounding area.

The Government has formulated a number of policies for the farmers, but they are not able to access these due to lack of connectivity as they are not well versed about the policies which are formulated for their welfare. The government, at central and state levels, must resolve this issue, create policies and undertake detailed measures at grass root levels. Some of the ways to manage agricultural waste can be:

1. Using rice residue as Fodder

2. Using crop residue in Bio-Thermal Power Plants

3. Utilizing rice residue as Bedding Material (for Cattle)

4. Using crop residue for Mushroom Cultivation

5. Producing paper from rice residue

6. Making Bio Gas

7. In Situ preparation (Straw incorporation and straw mulching)

8. Producing Bio-Oil from Straw and Other Agricultural Wastes.[4]

The present conditions do not paint a very pretty picture - it begs for a collective effort on this issue. Achieving the objective of a cleaner and greener environment should not be merely on paper but in reality. Unfortunately, the wide ambit of activities contributing to air pollution has remained unaddressed, while stubble burning has been criminalised as if it’s the only reason for currently deplorable conditions. These activities include bursting crackers at Diwali, burning effigies at a humongous scale at Dussehra and the ever-increasing Vehicular Pollution. It is a cause for concern when a particular community or group of people are continuously blamed for a collective mistake. The fact, although very conveniently ignored, still remains that all these festivals come around the mid or the end of harvesting season, i.e., October to mid-November. Enormous levels of pollutants are released into the atmosphere within a single night, offsetting the environmental balance at an unprecedented scale every year. While it is agreed that this issue cannot be given a clean chit, what must be kept in mind is that this alone is not the root cause of air pollution, especially when so many other factors contribute to it. Putting the blame on stubble burning alone for increasing the pollution borders on irrationality. It is high time that the approach to this problem is reconsidered and appropriate steps are taken for a safer and healthy environment, for today and tomorrow.

[1] Kumar Parmod, Kumar Surender, Joshi Laxmi, Socioeconomic and Environmental Implications of Agricultural Residue Burning: A Case Study of Punjab, India, Springer, 2015, pp.1-12. [2] The Punjab Pollution Control Board; [3] Avtar Singh Bimbraw, Generation and Impact of Crop Residue and its management, Curr Agri Res 2019; 7(3).. doi : [4] Supra, note 1.

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