A little cleaner air in Delhi this year because of fewer paddy residue burning events in Punjab, Haryana and Western districts of Uttar Pradesh
To curb and abate air pollution during the ongoing harvest season, the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) in National Capital Region (NCR) and Adjoining Areas has been actively monitoring paddy residue burning events from 15th September 2021 onwards in the NCR states of Punjab, Haryana and 8 Districts of Uttar Pradesh (U.P.)
It may be noted that stubble burning has created a massive public health crisis – its fumes pollute swathes of northern India and endanger the health of hundreds of millions of people. And it has been more dangerous in the last two years with Covid-19 ravaging the country. Air pollution makes people more vulnerable to infection and slows their recovery.
According to some estimates, farmers in northern India burn about 23 million tonnes of paddy stubble every year.
However, the steps taken towards reduction in paddy straw generation is yielding positive results. The total paddy area in these areas have come down by 7.72 per cent during the current year as compared to last year.
As per the report based on the protocol framed by ISRO for the Commission, paddy residue burning events have been reduced by 69.49% in Punjab, by 18.28% in Haryana and by 47.61% in the 8 NCR Districts of Uttar Pradesh during the one-month period compared to the same period last year.
During one month period of the current year, the total reported residue burning events in Punjab are 1286 as against 4216 for the same period of last year. Similarly, in respect of Haryana, the reported fire incidents are 487 as against 596 for the corresponding year last year. In the 8 NCR Districts of Uttar Pradesh, the total stubble fire incidents reported during this period are 22 as against 42 for the corresponding period of last year.
No fire counts have been reported from Delhi and two NCR Districts of Rajasthan. The first paddy residue burning was reported on 16th September in Punjab, 28th September in Haryana and 18th September in the NCR area of Uttar Pradesh.
The major hotspots of paddy residue burning in the state of Punjab are Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Patiala and Ludhiana. These four districts account for 72% of stubble burning events. Similarly, the major hotspots in Haryana are Karnal, Kaithal and Kurukshetra. These 3 districts account for 80% of the stubble burning incidences.
The Commission is taking up with the State Governments of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh on a daily basis to ensure strict implementation of the action plan and the framework to curb paddy residue burning events. CAQM has also held series of meetings with State Government Officials including the District Collectors/ District Magistrates of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
Out of a total 1795 sites where burning has been reported in Punjab, Haryana and 8 NCR Districts of Uttar Pradesh up till 14.10.2021, 663 fields have been inspected by the enforcement agencies and officials concerned of the respective states. Environmental Compensation (EC) has been imposed in 252 cases.
Because of various measures taken by the central and state governments, total paddy straw generation from the non-basmati variety in the region is likely to be reduced by 12.42 per cent during the current year as compared to the previous year.
Both Central and State Governments of Haryana, Punjab and U.P. have been taking measures to diversify crops as well as to reduce the use of PUSA-44 variety of paddy. Burning of paddy straw from the non-basmati variety of crops is the prime concern. Crop diversification and moving away from PUSA-44 variety with short duration High Yielding Varieties are part of the framework and action plan for control of stubble burning.
As per data received from the State Governments of Haryana, Punjab and U.P., the total amount of paddy straw generated will come down this year. The total paddy straw generation is likely to come down by 1.31 million tonnes (from 20.05 million tonnes in 2020 to 18.74 million tonnes in 2021) in Punjab; by 0.8 million tonnes (from 7.6 million tonnes in 2020 to 6.8 million tonnes in 2021) in Haryana and; by 0.09 million tonnes (from 0.75 million tonnes in 2020 to 0.67 million tonnes in 2021) in the eight NCR districts of U.P. this year.
The total quantity of straw generated by the respective states was 28.4 million tonnes in 2020 which is now expected to come down to 26.21 million tonnes in 2021.
The decrease in non-basmati variety is expected to be even higher. Paddy straw generation specifically from the non-basmati variety of crops is expected to decrease from 17.82 million tonnes in 2020 to 16.07 million tonnes in 2021 in Punjab and from 3.5 million tonnes in 2020 to 2.9 million tonnes in 2021 in Haryana.
The Commission through a comprehensive framework had directed the respective State Governments to promote short duration and early maturing varieties of crops since they can be managed quite efficiently and provide a much wider window for paddy straw management. As per recommendations of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Government of India, CAQM had actively pursued with State Governments for promotion of the same.
Apart from this, the Crop Diversification Programs are also being implemented in the states of Punjab and Haryana along with the NCR Districts of U.P. to divert the area of water-guzzling paddy to alternate crops.
Simultaneously authorities have attempted steps to stop the practice of straw-burning. . They’ve pitched alternatives, they’ve banned it, they’ve fined farmers for continuing to do it and they’ve even thrown a few of them in jail.
They’ve also tried to reward good behaviour – in 2019, the Supreme Court ordered a clutch of northern states to give 2,400 rupees per acre to every farmer who didn’t burn stubble.
The government has tried offering alternative technology. There is “Happy Seeder” – a machine mounted on a tractor which removes the paddy straw while simultaneously sowing wheat for the next harvest. It was touted as eco-friendly, fast and effective. The government picked up 50 to 80% of the bill, depending on whether it was an individual farmer or a group.
Another potential game-changer, a bio-decomposer developed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, turns crop residue into manure in 15 to 20 days.