Stubble Burning in India & its Alternatives to fight Pollution

Introduction

Stubble burning, the practice of setting fire to leftover crop residue after harvest, is a major environmental concern in India.

This widespread practice, particularly in northern states like Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, contributes significantly to air pollution, impacting public health and overall environmental quality.

Negative Consequences of Stubble Burning

Stubble burning has a multitude of negative consequences, impacting various aspects of the environment and human health.

  • Air Pollution: The primary consequence is the release of harmful pollutants into the atmosphere. Smoke from burning stubble contains fine particulate matter (PM2.5), releasing a thick haze that reduces visibility and air quality. This particulate matter can penetrate deep into the lungs, causing respiratory problems like asthma, bronchitis, and lung cancer.
  • Impact on Soil Health: Stubble burning destroys essential organic matter and nutrients in the soil. This reduces soil fertility, impacting crop yields in the long run and requiring increased use of chemical fertilizers, further degrading soil health.
  • Climate Change: Smoke from stubble burning contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide and black carbon. These gases trap heat in the atmosphere, accelerating climate change and its associated effects.
  • Impact on Biodiversity: The burning process destroys insects, earthworms, and other beneficial organisms living in the soil, disrupting the natural ecosystem and impacting agricultural productivity.

Why Stubble Burning has Become Popular

Despite its negative consequences, stubble burning remains a common practice due to several factors:

  • Short Window for Sowing: Modern combine harvesters leave behind significant amounts of straw stubble. Farmers often have a limited window between harvesting rice and sowing the next wheat crop. Stubble burning is seen as a quick and cheap method to clear the field for timely sowing.
  • Lack of Affordable Alternatives: Large-scale alternatives like Happy Seeder machines, which sow wheat directly into the standing stubble, are often expensive for small and marginal farmers. Additionally, the infrastructure and expertise required for efficient baling and composting of crop residue are often lacking.
  • Government Subsidies on Chemical Fertilizers: The subsidized pricing of chemical fertilizers encourages their overuse, reducing the perceived value of crop residue as a natural nutrient source.

Stubble Burning and Delhi’s Winter Air Pollution

Stubble burning in neighboring states significantly impacts Delhi’s air quality, particularly during winter months. Several factors contribute to this phenomenon:

  • Wind Direction: During October and November, wind patterns shift, carrying smoke particulates from burning fields in Punjab and Haryana towards Delhi. This coincides with the burning season, creating a thick smog that engulfs the city.
  • Geographical Location: Delhi is situated in a low-lying region, and the surrounding hills trap pollutants, further worsening air quality during winter months when temperature inversions prevent the dispersion of pollutants.
  • Cocktail of Pollutants: Smoke from stubble burning mixes with vehicular emissions, industrial pollution, and construction dust, creating a highly toxic cocktail that poses a severe health risk to Delhi residents.

Factors Which Contribute in Making Stubble Burning a Major Cause of Air Pollution

Several factors exacerbate the problem of stubble burning as a major cause of air pollution:

  • Limited Awareness: Many farmers lack awareness about the long-term consequences of stubble burning and the availability of alternative solutions.
  • Economic Constraints: Small and marginal farmers often struggle to afford alternatives due to financial limitations.
  • Lack of Infrastructure: The infrastructure and support systems required for efficient management of crop residue, such as baling units and bio-mass power plants, are often inadequate.
  • Weak Enforcement: Despite bans imposed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), effective enforcement mechanisms are lacking to deter farmers from resorting to burning.

Solutions and Strategies

Combating stubble burning requires a multi-pronged approach involving government initiatives, farmer education, and technological advancements:

  • Promoting Affordable Alternatives: Government subsidies and financial assistance programs can make Happy Seeder machines and other residue management technologies more accessible to farmers.
  • Bio-mass Utilization: Establishing bio-mass power plants can provide an economic incentive for farmers by creating a market for crop residue. This can generate renewable energy while tackling stubble burning.
  • Farmer Awareness Programs: Educational campaigns and workshops can inform farmers about the negative consequences of stubble burning and promote sustainable agricultural practices.
  • Stricter Enforcement: Strengthening enforcement of NGT bans on stubble burning, coupled with incentives for adopting alternatives, can deter farmers from burning.
  • Research and Development: Investing in research and development of cost-effective, efficient technologies for residue

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