Stubble burning continues even as air gets too heavy to breathe
On November1, 2019, Chairman of EPCA, the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority, said the air quality in Delhi and NCR had deteriorated progressively and was at the severe plus level. Construction activities, hot mix plants and stone crushers in Delhi, Faridabad, Gurugram, Ghaziabad, Noida and Greater Noida were closed till morning of November 5, 2019. Schools were ordered to be closed in Delhi till November5, 2019. The Authority stated that it was a public health emergency because of its adverse health impacts on all, particularly children. A part of this pollution and smog was certainly because of stubble burning.
Around 23 million tonnes of agricultural residue is burnt by farmers in Northern India in paddy fields every October and November, to clear the field for wheat sowing. The crop residues are subjected to open burning on account of narrow window between paddy harvesting and wheat sowing, high labour wages and anxiety of farmers to get the crop produce collected and marketed at the earliest.
The practice of stubble burning raises the concentration of Particulate matter in the air to 1000 micrograms per cubic metre while the safety limit is 50 micrograms. This creates a kind of medical emergency. This burning pollutes the air and creates smog. In addition to aerosol particles, this is considered a major source of carbon dioxide, methane, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides and halogen compounds. Every year in October- November, problem of air pollution is acute in and around Delhi, threatening the health of infants and senior citizens. About 25-30 percent of air pollution in Delhi- NCR is caused by stubble burning in October and November every year. Burning also leads to the ground temperature rising and the soil drying up, necessitating additional water for irrigation. Livestock too is impacted by crop burning. It has been found that milk production falls up to 50 % du ring the two months.
In UP, 15 cities Lucknow, Agra, Prayagraj, Kanpur , Varanasi , Ghaziabad , Noida , Khurja, Firozabad, Anpara, Gajraula, Jhansi, Moradabad , Rai Bareilly, and Bareilly are among the severely polluted areas of the country. Due to stubble burning, the problem of pollution in these towns and nearby areas is becoming still more severe.
State of Uttar Pradesh vide its notification dated 3rd November , 2000 had declared the entire State of Uttar Pradesh as an Air pollution Control Area under Section 19(1) of the Air Act. The States of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have also drawn up action plans in accordance with the directions of National Green Tribunal as well as National Policy for Management of Crop Residues. These states have also prohibited burning of crop residues by issuing notifications.
American Space agency NASA has released its pictures. According to these pictures, even after Dussehra, stubble was being burnt in Punjab, Haryana and the areas adjoining to these places. Delhi government has also shared these pictures. As a result, Air Quality Index (AQI) in Delhi was recorded ‘Bad ‘and a fall in the quality of air was recorded. In many areas of Delhi, AQI was 299 on 16th October, 2019 and was increasing.PM 2.5 level was 232 and PM 10 was 233 which are regarded as bad. In areas adjoining Delhi like Ghaziabad , Greater Noida and Loni rural, AQI was recorded as above 300.This situation prevails every year in November Though many steps have been taken to discourage this process , but every year this becomes a head ache for Delhi and nearby states.
The Government of India has drawn ‘National Policy for Management of crop residues (NPMCR) -2014’ as amended from time to time, through ministry of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers welfare .This envisages adoption of technical measures including diversified uses of crop residues , capacity building and training along with formulation of suitable law/ legislation. It has also advised to ensure that agricultural residues are put to alternative use for energy generation, producing ethanol, paper and packaging material etc., to the benefit of farmer’s community as well as to protect environment. Monitoring mechanisms have been evolved with the help of ISRO, National remote Sensing agency (NRSA) and State remote Sensing Agencies. Under the advisory issued by Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, corrective approach rather than a coercive one is to be used and awareness should be raised in regard to that.
The Centre had in 2018 launched a Rs 1150 crore scheme to support farmers for machinery, capacity development, knowledge sharing and awareness creation. The Centre is giving up to 8 5 subsidy on purchase of machines like Super SMS , Happy Seeder, Paddy Straw Chopper and zero till drill used for residue management .Those farmers who don’t want to buy these machines can get them on rent from Custom Hiring centres (CHCs) in their neighbourhood. Happy Seeder technology to manage rice residue can generate Rs 6000-11500 more profit per hectare for the average farmer. But the National Green Tribunal bench has expressed concern that equipments are yet not made available to farmers.
The Government of UP has given responsibility to officers in charge of police stations to take strict action against people who are found burning stubble. If needed, FIRs may also be registered against the offenders. Directions have also been issued to all the district Magistrates to appoint nodal officers at village level to make farmers aware for not burning the stubble. They have also been asked to depute gram Pradhans and area Lekhpals for this purpose. If such incidents take place in any area, actions is also to be taken against the responsible official. To get rid of the problem of stubble, it has also been decided to complete the target of distributing necessary equipments.
However, things are not working very well. In Sangrur in Punjab, in October 2019, a team of Block level officers went to the fields of farmers who were burning stubble, with a view to take action against the farmers. However, they were gheraoed by farmers who assembled there in large numbers under the banner of Bharatiya Kisaan Union. These farmers shouted slogans against the state government. The officers were released only when they assured the farmers that they will not take any action for stubble burning. The farmers accused that the state government is not serious about giving relief to farmers who are submerged in debts. The financial position of farmers does not permit them to consume costly diesel in burying the stubble under the land. On the contrary, the government is wasting crores of rupees on the drive to create awareness about not burning the stubble. If these resources are spent on compensating the farmers, then the inclination to burn stubble will stop to a large extent. Similar resistance by farmers has been reported in many parts of Punjab and Haryana.
What emerges from the above analysis is that the state governments in four states of Northern India and Government of India have taken the issue of stubble burning casually. Perhaps, they are afraid of farmers’ backlash. But it must be realized that air pollution has caused a national medical emergency, and more serious, strict and vigorous steps have to be taken till the practice of stubble burning is eradicated altogether.