Agriculture is the primary source of occupation for more than half of the country’s population. Agriculture feeds the population and also contributes to the GDP of the country. But it has become one of the menacing causes of pollution in the National Capital Region(NCR). This is the problem the country has been facing for decades. Delhi has been choking for decades now. It is so severe that even schools are closed down. The smog halts the city for days. There are many causes for the same as vehicular pollution, overpopulation, etc. But stubble burning is one of the major uncontrollable factors. Farmers see no other way. They think stubble burning is the most viable and fastest way to get rid of the stubble. Winter is always a dangerous season for the North. Besides the bone gripping cold, the increasing pollution in the season is life-threatening. The fact that agriculture is the cause of this pollution shows how developed the country is. Blaming farmers is not going to help anyone. Farmers always face heat for one thing or the other. It has not been long since the protests against the farmer laws, and within months they have to face the heat of a new law again.
The Story so far
In September 2020 the government aimed at cutting down 75-80% of the farm burning through various measures. The government was ready to use both in-situ (within the farm) measures and ex-situ (outside the farm) measures to curb stubble burning. One of those measures is by giving subsidized straw management machines. This program is in its third year. It was not so successful for the last two years due to various reasons. And last year Delhi had seen its worst pollution days when air quality went to severe condition. This year, the government has to make ends meet so that the stubble management machinery is bought by the farmers. Punjab is ready to sell as many as 23500 machines this year. The farmers in both states feel that this is not an economically viable solution. The farmers demand additional compensation of Rs. 200 per quintal or Rs. 6000 per hectare. They say although the machines are subsidized, it is not very easy to maintain them, and diesel is also very costly. This year also, the mechanism is a failure as Delhi is facing severe Air Pollution. President has given his assent to the commission of Air Quality management in NCR.
The Supreme Court will give its order seeing the commission’s work. The farm fires doubled in Punjab and Haryana. Although there is a consistent increase, some of the authorities say farmers are in a better position to maintain stubble now due to the various machines and techniques available. While all these show the increase in farm fires and it is one of the highest in the past four years, the chief secretary of Punjab stated the land burned was 5% lower than the corresponding period in the previous year. These machines did bring some relief to NCR. Delhi on October 31st saw the Air Quality Index be ‘poor’ from ‘severe’. But the centre has decided to bring strict laws and actions to curb stubble burning.
It is very difficult to feed the growing population. The agricultural land is subject to severe pressure from the repeat of farming cycles. The land was used for 2-3 crop cycles per year. But that is not the case now, the land is exploited for more yield, and the crop cycles have considerably increased. As the crop increases, so do the residue. To start with the next crop immediately, the farmers need to get rid of the stubble. And the easiest way they find is the traditional stubble burning. They get the utmost 20-25 days between the cycles, and within that time, they either get to bury the stubble or burn it. They do not have time to sell it or transport to industries which need stubble. Experts and even farmers say it is simple economics behind the stubble burning, which the government is missing. Anyone chooses a cost-effective measure rather than one, which involves manpower and lots of effort and time. There are many ways to curb the stubble burning. One of the methods the government used is to give incentives to farmers who stop burning it. But like all other schemes, it suffers from bad implementation. Many farmers complain that they didn’t receive any compensation, and now they are facing issues to repay the loans taken for buying the machinery. While many of the machines are subsidized, farmers are not attracted to any of these incentives or penalties. Especially the farmers who have small holdings cannot spend their profits on the machines and rents and diesel. At the end of the day, we are left with more questions and worries about technology and subsidization. As farmers say, that there is no alternative. That is not the case solution are known, the only thing is they should reach farmers, and they should be affordable.
NCR’s pollution is a mix of many factors. As one of the Central Ministers pointed out, stubble burning only accounts for 4% of the pollution. Nevertheless, it is an issue that should be addressed quickly. The government is coming up with laws for the same. The law should not be a temporary solution; neither should it be too strict on the farmers. As of now, the problem is affordability, but the root cause is the rotational crops of rice and wheat. A long term solution would be a diversification of crops. Many laws are tackling air pollution, and the legislations penalize the acts. New legislation might not be the solution. The government should concentrate on solving the problems of farmers rather than creating more.
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