In recent times, Delhi has been facing the challenge of Air pollution particularly during winter months. Though the reasons for this spread of smog are many, the biggest contributor to the deterioration of Air quality has been the Stubble burning in the Northern parts of India.
System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), a forecasting research initiative, has shared data that reveals Delhi’s PM 2.5 pollution levels comprised 34% coming alone from farm fires making the city faring worst in AQI in all the Tier 1 cities of India.
So now the question arises what is Stubble Burning and why the politics surrounding it is trending?
Stubble Burning or Parali burning informally has been a process of burning paddy crop residues after extracting the harvest from the field to sow crops. This is generally done during the months of October- November in the Northern parts of India. All the straw stubble and the remains of the grain harvest are set on fire. The output results in air pollution. So, it’s a concept that is nothing new to farmers, statistical analysts, and politicians. This time, the Punjab Farmers shifted the Kharif cropping cycle by 3 weeks, which resulted in higher Stubble Burning. As the time narrowed in the wheat crop sowing, the Parali Burning period in Punjab clashed with the Haryana farmers’ stubble burning time. Moreover, there was excessive intervention by the Punjab farmers’ unions which delayed the process. The heatmap of stubble burning generally features the areas heavily affected by the pollution it causes.
Blame Game on Stubble Burning
Shifting the blame, CM, Arvind Kejriwal, cites the Central government’s failure in controlling stubble burning in the state of Punjab. Kejriwal further took a jibe at the Haryana government’s inability to cope with Stubble Burning and suggested the centre should resign if it cannot solve the problem from its end in Punjab.
But when you go by the statistics, geographic data, and most importantly, what the union ministers and environmentalists have to say, the table turns in the face of the AAP government.
Punjab today has the Aam Aadmi Party government in power, the national convener being Arvind Kejriwal. Economist Sanjeev Sanyal questioned why Punjab becomes the single biggest source of Parali burning making the AQI fall between 500-800. Responding to Kejriwal’s tweet, Bhupendra Yadav (Union Environment Minister) questioned Kejriwal, citing the rise of farm fires in Punjab and the 30.6% drop in Haryana. He was highly critical of Kejriwal’s governance, which has turned Delhi into a gas chamber. Though Narendra Tomar of the BJP urged to act collectively and stop politicising the matter, He stated both the centre and state governments should have a common motive to make agriculture flourish.
What Stats on Stubble Burning speak?
If we go by the comparison with 2021, this year, from September 15 to November 1, 2022, cases of farm fires and parali alone increased by over 18% in the Punjab State. Whereas the BJP-led Haryana saw a dip of almost 31 percent in stubble burning, as per the data obtained through satellite monitoring by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. Punjab alone witnessed 18,000 cases of stubble burning, which is eight times more than Haryana for the same period. On 25th October, Punjab had 181 cases of Stubble Burning which has seen an upward trend of 13.73 per cent. As of 2nd November, there were record cases of 3,634 in Punjab. On contrary, Haryana had only 12 cases of Stubble Burning on 25th October but has shown a mere rise of only 9.6 percent as the numbers stood at 166 only by 2nd November.
Going by the Stubble Burning Contributors in Hectares, all the major red areas in the map burned more than 1,00,000 hectares of Parali in the Punjab State. Whereas Haryana resulted in burning no more Parali than just 50,000 hectares.
Haryana and UP fare better than Punjab
In comparison with the Punjab government, the Haryana government provided the farmers resisting stubble burning with Rs 1000/acre. An additional allotment of 2.5 lakh decomposers was done. The Haryana Agriculture department further established the Indian Oil Plant that would go on to use 8–10 lakh acres of Parali and also purchased Parali for MSP. UP was also not behind. The Yogi government too provided cash incentives to the farmers who refrained from burning parali. It was strictly announced that those farmers who would indulge in steaming Parali would be eliminated from PM Kissan Samman Nidhi’s scheme. Moreover, the UP Agriculture department declared a harsh penalty of Rs 5,000 on the farmers found violating the regulations.
Stubble Burning: A Hurdle for the Environment
If we go by the geographical region, it can be seen that the Stubble Burning surrounds the Indo-Gangetic Plains that comprise the states of UP, Punjab, Haryana, and the adjoining regions of the Delhi NCR. The aftermath of Stubble Burning adds to the smog and haze because of the smoke. Everyear various cases see an upsurge because of stubble burning and its hazardous impact on the respiratory systems of the citizens.
Just look at the public health situation, and we see the AQLI report stating the life expectancy of NCR citizens on average reduces by 10 years. But it’s not just the air that deteriorates but also the great amount of solid degradation that stubble farming causes. The heat of the burned remains penetrates the soil and kills the microorganisms and bacteria that it carries. thus making the soil erode and degrading its fertility.
Research on crop residue management has found that some 1 tonne of stubble burning can lead to the loss of 5.5 kg of nitrogen, 2.3 kg of phosphorus, 25 kg of potassium, and 1 kg of sulphur.
Stubble Burning: Dwindling the Economics
The economy booms because of the interconnectivity. If any of the spheres is left, the other has to suffer. 1.5 billion dollars’ loss alone could happen for 5 years because of poor air quality. The global tourists refrained from travelling to Delhi, NCR, because of the poor AQI there. The recent increase in Parali burning has also exploited soil resources, which marks an increase in the rate of soil losses. Since the Farm fire causes erosion in the top layer of the soil, it makes the crops more prone to disease.
Where does Capital Delhi need to Capitalise? Alternatives for other states
Every metropolitan region surrounded by vast land and a harsh climate is subject to major pollution. An additional spark of Stubble burning just makes it worse. Unlike confronting the centre, the AAP could prepare itself to make Delhi NCR breathable. Every year, stubble burning in north India makes Delhi suffer the harshest smog and the worst breath of the season. The setting up of oxygen bars, the usage of Happy Seeders(a tool used for sowing crops in standing stubble), and also the development of Smog Towers would count. Stubble-burning issues aren’t new.
The shift in crop type or even crop cycle in areas adjacent to the NCR could do wonders. Rather than just burning the stubble, various alternatives could be considered both by the farmers and governments in north India. Stubble remains can act as cattle feed, compost manure, in the production of biomass energy, bio-ethanol, in the cultivation of mushrooms, packaging of materials and much more. It is high time that government take note before it is too late.