Is There An Answer To Stubble Burning Menace?

Stubble burning cases have been rapidly increasing in Punjab over the past few days. On October 23, the state recorded more than 1,000 cases of stubble burning cases in a day, pushing the mark beyond 5,000 cases for this season. Reports from Delhi suggest that the impact of this has been negligible so far on the air quality. Currently, the number of cases has been 50.5 per cent lower than the number of cases last year. However, the season is still a long way from being over.

Stubble burning has been a problem for the past many years, affecting the air quality of the northern states. Delhi, the national capital, is one of the severely affected states along with other nearby states.

Stubble-Burning: The Issue

Farmers normally burn stubble once in summer and likewise in winter. However, in the summer season, it does not harm as much as it does during winters due to the fog and decreasing temperatures. North India is a place where mostly paddy and wheat crops are grown. Thus, the remaining straws from the harvests are burnt to clear space for the upcoming wheat season. Burning is seen as an easier and quicker method by the farmers to prepare their fields, as they have very little time before the wheat season commences.

There have been alternate measures and incentives given by the government to the farmers. But the lack of awareness and clarity has made stubble burning still the most prevalent method. That is because, well it is the easiest! While the Punjab government even promised monetary compensation, the chief minister said they have no funds for such huge amounts of money.

Do Only North Indian States Grow Paddy?

The answer is no. Paddy is also a very common crop down south, with Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala, among other states growing huge amounts of rice. Moreover, rice also is a staple crop in the southern states. But, there are many reasons why stubble burning is not an issue.

Primarily, the southern states do not have a very severe winter season like the north. Thus, burning would not affect the atmosphere as it does in the north. However, the straws are usually high and significant in the south. Therefore, getting rid of them is also easier. The labour to weed them out is cheaper as well. Moreover, farmers use straws as fodder for cattle and animals. The stubble is also used as a raw material for roofs of thatched and pucca houses. Thus, these paddy straws might give equal amounts of profit from what they earn from the crops.

This makes it ecologically and economically viable. Even farm scientist MS Swaminathan called for the governments to push for more eco-friendly methods and teach the farmers how to get rid of stubble the right way.

However, it is imperative to note that rice is not the staple diet for people in the northern plains. This came as a result of the green revolution and has become a commercial crop over the years. Thus, leaving more stubble than usually harvested states. This mechanized way of producing paddy also leads to the stubble that is different because they go for dwarf varieties in contrast to the tall ones making the stubble not available for making other by-products.

Beyond Air Pollution

The burning of stubble does not only cause air pollution but also has other adverse effects on the soil. Burning anything over the soil would affect soil fertility. The essential nutrients and organic content of the soil are slowly eroded away in the long run. Thus, it is necessary that we look for more alternatives than going the easier route.

Alternative Options

Multiple alternative methods to get rid of stubble the right way have been suggested. The Punjab government also distributed 24,000 happy seeders, tractor-based machines to seed out the stubble. However, Punjab needs at least 5,000 such tractors. And, the farmers themselves almost have to spend Rs 3,000 to use the seeder on one acre.

Other machines that have been used are a straw chop-cum-spreader, which helps in chopping the straws and spreading them across the field. This also helps in wheat cultivation in the future.

Many such alternatives have come up over the past years. But the concerns come back to square one. The government should take initiatives to make it easier for the farmers. All they want is a mechanism by which they can get rid of stubble faster and might be able to use it for their profits. Thus, beyond the blame game, we need to look for actual actions on the ground.

Also Read: Cracker Ban: What Does It Mean For Sivakasi – India’s Firecracker Capital?

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