Current Affairs

Punjab government to give incentives to industries for using stubble

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  • Published
    29th Aug, 2021
  • Context

    In a latest development, the Punjab Government decided to permit certain categories of industries to install paddy-straw-fired boilers to claim fiscal incentives, in order to check stubble burning menace during the paddy season.

  • Background

    • In Delhi and its neighbouring states, the issue of stubble burning became a major issue during the paddy harvesting season (October 15 and November 15) over the past years due to spikes in air pollution levels in Delhi-NCR.
    • Farmers set their fields on fire to clear them of crop residue left behind after harvesting paddy and before cultivating wheat and potato.
    • Farmers continue stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana as there is a short time window between paddy harvesting and sowing of wheat.
    • Farmers also cite the high cost of manual or mechanical management of straw as a reason behind their preference to burn stubble.
  • Analysis

    What exactly is stubble burning?

    • The term refers to a practice that sees farmers burn leftover straw from grains such as wheat or rice (‘stubble’) on their fields in an effort to clear them for future crops.
    • Stubble burning causes toxic smog, a menace in several northern states and one exacerbated by the pandemic, as the inhalation of toxic fumes also renders people more susceptible to the Covid-19 virus.

    According to some estimates, farmers in northern India burn about 23 million tonnes of paddy stubble every year.

    What is the share of stubble burning in Delhi’s pollution?

    • The share of stubble burning can range from 1% to 42%, depending on wind speed and direction.
    • However, a new environment ministry report says the average contribution has grown from 10% in 2019 to 15% this year.

    Crop residue burning was notified as an offence under the Air Act of 1981, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and various appropriate Acts.

  • What are the environmental and health risks?

    • Pollution: Stubble burning directly contributes to environmental pollution, and also responsible for the haze in Delhi and melting of Himalayan glaciers. 
    • Affecting fertility of soil: The heat from burning paddy straw penetrates 1 centimetre into the soil, elevating the temperature to 33.8 to 42.2 degree Celsius. This kills the bacterial and fungal populations critical for a fertile soil.
    • Making crops prone to disease: Burning of crop residue causes damage to other micro-organisms present in the upper layer of the soil as well as its organic quality. Due to the loss of ‘friendly’ pests, the wrath of ‘enemy’ pests has increased and as a result, crops are more prone to disease.
    • Decreased solubility: The solubility capacity of the upper layers of soil also gets reduced.
    • Air pollutants: Stubble burning emits fine particulate matter (PM2.5), an air pollutant that is a concern for people's health when levels in the air are high.
      • The particles can get trapped inside the lungs and increase the risk of lung cancer by 36%. 
    • Release of harmful chemicals: This practice also releases a variety of harmful chemicals like polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs) that have toxicological effects.
    • Disruptions in economic activity (cancellation/delays in flights and trains, and slow road traffic and accidents).
    • Loss of nutrients: One tonne stubble burning leads to a loss of the following nutrients, besides organic carbon
    • 5 kilogram nitrogen
    • 3 kg phosphorus
    • 25 kg potassium
    • more than 1 kg of sulfur

    The other side of the coin (benefits): 

    Stubble burning also provides some of the given benefits

    • Cheap
    • Quickly clears the field
    • Kills weeds (including those resistant to herbicide)
    • Kills slugs and other pests
    • Reduction in nitrogen tie-up
  • Why Farmers are having a tough time unlearning stubble-burning?

    • Short time-framework: The main reason for paddy (rice crop) stubble burning is the short time available between rice harvesting and sowing of wheat; a delay in sowing wheat adversely affects the wheat crop. 
    • Expensive technology: Farmers cannot afford the new technology that is available to handle the waste material.
    • Quick and cheap: Alternatives to stubble burning are not popular because they impose additional operational expenses, often from the farmer’s pocket. On the other hand, stubble-burning only requires a matchbox.
    • Lack of options provided by the Government.
  • How to stamp out farm fires (required measures)?

    • Shifting towards traditional use of paddy: There is need to popularise the traditional use of paddy straw and stubble as fodder and as part of feed-mixture preparations.
    • Awareness: The government should play the part of an enabler by spreading awareness about the pros and cons of each option, so as to eliminate confusion and ease the adoption of new technologies by removing socio-economic barriers.
    • Conversion: In the long-term, petroleum companies can be incentivised to initiate investment plans for churning out 2G ethanol out of crop stubble.
    • Recycling: Recycling the stubble into compost.
    • Encouraging pyrolysis: It is a sustainable way to generate electricity from waste

    Innovative agricultural machines to manage crop residue

    • Happy Seeder: used for sowing of crop in standing stubble
    • Rotavator: used for land preparation and incorporation of crop stubble in the soil
    • Zero till seed drill: used for land preparations directly sowing of seeds in the previous crop stubble
    • Baler: used for collection of straw and making bales of the paddy stubble
    • Paddy Straw Chopper: cutting of paddy stubble for easily mixing with the soil
    • Reaper Binder: used for harvesting paddy stubble and making into bundles
  • Conclsion

    To conclude, the problem is complex needs some revolutionary measures to get rid of the age-old practice. In sum, the government has to either increase monetary incentives or offer technologies and policies that don’t require farmers to spend even more.