Addressing north India’s burning issue sustainably
#GS-03 Environment and Ecology, Pollution
What is Stubble Burning:
- Stubble burning is the practice of intentionally setting fire to the straw stubble that remains after grains, such as rice and wheat, have been harvested.
- This is seen as an easier and cheaper method of removing paddy crop residues from the field to sow wheat from the last week of September to November.
- Stubble burning has been one of the prime reasons for air pollution over the national capital region (NCR).
The causes of Stubble Burning ?
- The root cause of stubble burning can be traced back to the 1960s-70s when Green Revolution transformed the way agriculture was practised, especially in Punjab and Haryana.
- The economics of high-yielding varieties of paddy and wheat, supported by a guaranteed buyer (the government) and minimum support prices led to a crop duopoly focusing only on wheat and rice.
- This duopoly was further cemented by the policy moves in subsequent decades, which included the introduction of subsidies for electricity and fertilizers, and ease of access for credit in agriculture.
- Later the Punjab and Haryana governments introduced laws around water conservation in order to address the growing water crisis.
- These laws encouraged farmers to look to the monsoon rather than groundwater to irrigate their crops.
- This resulted in a shortened harvesting season which forced farmers to rapidly clear their fields between the kharif and rabi crops.
What has been done?
- A series of short-term ex-situ and in-situ solutions have been rolled out by the Union and State governments.
- In-situ solutions include happy seeders and bio-decomposers, while the ex-situ solutions include collecting and using stubble as fuel in boilers, to produce ethanol, or to simply burn away alongside coal in thermal power plants.
- Economic incentives to reduce burning have also been tested with limited success.
What needs to be done?
- We need to substantially reduce the amount of paddy being grown in the region and replace it with other crops that are equally high-yielding, in-demand, and agro-ecologically suitable such as cotton, maize, pulses and oil seeds.
- The governments also need to build trust with farmers to ensure they are seen as partners (rather than perpetrators) and provide them the financial support necessary.
- At a policy level, it also requires recognising that agriculture, nutrition, water, the environment, and the economy are all deeply intertwined in the era of the Anthropocene.
- Therefore, taking the long view on this would also mean establishing a mechanism for intersectoral policymaking that aligns our goals for sectoral policy within the broad frame of sustainable development we wish to follow.