Incidents of stubble burning — following the harvest of paddy crop in Punjab and Haryana — cannot be averted by imposing fines, or giving notice or giving farmers capital subsidy. Instead, the issue requires long-term vision and strategic policy interventions.

The issue –

Stubble burning is said to be a key factor behind the formation of a dense cover of smog in this part of India though its contribution is less than 20%.

Background –

  • In the 1960s, wheat-paddy crop rotation was encouraged in Punjab and Haryana to make India self-sufficient in foodgrain production.
  • Large public investments in irrigation and adoption of high yielding varieties under the Green Revolution helped achieve the goal and make the nation food secure.
  • The share of paddy (rice) in the gross cropped area in Punjab has increased from 6.8% in 1966-67 to almost 36.4 % in recent years, while it has increased from 4.97% to 20% in Haryana.

Causes –

  • The policy of minimum support price for crops, in tandem with their assured procurement and input subsidy, have left farmers with no option but to sow paddy at the cost of area under maize, cotton, oilseeds and sugarcane.
  • Punjab enacted a water conservation law in 2009 which mandates paddy sowing within a notified period (in June). A shorter period prohibits transplantation before a notified date, which in turn limits the window available for harvesting paddy i.e. between 15 and 20 days. As a result, farmers who are pressed for time to sow wheat and maintain crop yield find stubble burning to be an easy and low-cost solution.
  • Farmers have already made investments in seed drill machines for sowing wheat after paddy harvest. Increasing pressure by the government on farmers to purchase the ‘happy seeder’ to abate stubble burning adds to the cost incurred by farmers. The fine imposed for burning straw per hectare is much lower than the cost incurred on a ‘happy seeder’.

What should be done?

  • One possibility to curtail the practice is to ensure that the government encourages crop diversification towards less water-intensive crops by extending price incentives and better marketing facilities.
  • A feasible remedy could lie in the setting up of custom hiring centres or inviting companies to make investments for rental purposes. If the state provides an app-based support system, to rent out tractors and farm implements and earn additional income. It would avoid stubble burning and at the same time make farming more mechanised, cost effective and a source of employment.
  • Farmers, who have already been sensitised to refrain from burning residue, should be given options such as biomass generation. The government should use geospatial techniques to identify areas where stubble burning is severe and encourage installation of biomass plants at such locations.

Conclusion –

Effective utilisation of paddy residue will help the government achieve its target of generating 227GW based on renewable energy sources by 2022. Farmers can also be incentivised to sell the residual for additional income. The residual has uses, such as in paper, cardboard and packing material making and also hydroseeding (defiberised rice straw can be used in hydroseeding for erosion control).

SourceThe Hindu

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