stubble burning- air pollution- india - issues
Agri Politics Environment Pollution & Climate Change Resource Management

When Crops become Fireworks! – The Misfortunes of Stubble Burning and Manageable Solutions

Succeeding her first space flight, in 1997, the Haryana born wonder woman, Kalpana Chawla said, “The Ganges valley looked majestic, mind-boggling” when she viewed from the outer space. Imaginatively, had she been alive today, on a space mission, she would have seen burning fires, just the way the NASA’s Visible Earth site shows us. 

The state of Punjab, which was at the helm of Green Revolution in the late 60s, has now, along with Haryana become the hub of Green House Effect !

The region consistently follows two growing seasons, one from May to September and another from November to April. This is the most popular cropping system practiced in about 13.5 million hectares of land across the Indo-Gangetic alluvial plain, first growing the monsoonal paddy crop and then quickly followed by wheat. Almost, all the farmers rotate between only these two crops, planting rice in May and wheat in November. The farmers secure a maximum of 15 to 20 days interval for the harvesting of the rice crop and gearing up the land for wheat. Within this petite time period they have to both mow and sow, failing which they will be subjected to hammering losses. As they ought to prepare the vast land in the brief stretch, they rush through tillage and set the rice crop residues aflame which is the easiest and cheapest way available for them. This is the fiery issue of Stubble Burning.

Agricultural practices in Punjab are mostly mechanized, besides, labour is quiet scarce and expensive and hence paddy harvest is brought about by combine harvesters. Combine machines that harvest, thresh and clean the separated grain at one go, leave the standing stubble at 50 to 60 cm height on the field. For farmers who prefer wheat straw as cattle feed, paddy straw doesn’t seem worthy. Proper clearing up of the stubble for alternative uses would cost more and make them devoid of the thin profit margin. The only way they are at ease is, burning.

stubble burning-india- pollution- solution
Picture source : flickr

About 20 million tonnes of paddy straw is produced in Punjab, of which about 15 million tonnes is burnt. Only about 1 million tonnes of straw is used in seven biomass – based power plants and about 3 million tonnes, mainly basmati straw, is used as animal fodder. Reports show that for every acre of land where paddy straw is burnt, about 3 tonnes of Carbon dioxide, 120 kilograms of Carbon monoxide, 6 kilograms of Particulate Matter, 4 kilograms of Sulphur dioxide and 400 kilograms of ash are released. All are propagators of Green House Effect ! Not only air pollution, but also stubble burning also leads to the burning of the most precious organic materials and millions of beneficial organisms in the field. For every acre of land, there is a loss of 5.5 kilograms of Nitrogen, 2.3 kilograms of Phosphorus and 25 kilograms of Potassium.

The State Governments of Punjab and Haryana have banned the practice of stubble burning since 2013, and in 2015 the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has also banned the practice in five states – Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. The NGT has fixed environment penalties at ₹ 2,500 per incident for landowners with less than 2 acres, and ₹ 15,000 for those owning over 5 acres. But still the undeserved way exists. If a farmer is caught burning his farm, a fine of ₹ 2,500 per acre can be levied. But this is a small price compared with the cost of alternative equipment or labor charges, thereby burning remains comfortably viable! Now that we have decoded the real problem, we need to code its solutions as well.

Mere banning and mire fining have not proved to curtail the age – old practice. The solution lies either in replacing the rice crop or in making it profitable to reap the most hated paddy straw. Paddy was never cultivated in the region (while its superior cultivar “Basmati” was grown in sub – mountainous areas) until 1980s when the government made populist gestures by fixing appealing Minimum Support Prices and later started free electricity schemes too. Though many worrying reports show that the groundwater is being over exploited, farmers continue paddy farming at any cost due to the lucrative profits they get. So changing the cropping pattern wouldn’t be readily acceptable, but replacing the existing paddy variety with a variety bearing even shorter duration (so that the harvest may be done a few weeks earlier) or breeding and introducing semi – dwarf varieties with lower straw-to-grain ratio could be possible.

stubble burning- air pollution- india - issues
Picture source: flickr

Moving on to the second solution we defined, finding profitable market for the stubble, as the uses of straw are not unknown. The first best use would be to incorporate the left over in the same field as mulch, enhancing the soil quality and crop yield. The most efficient labor saving method for this incorporation is through the use of a machine Turbo Happy Seeder which when mounted on a tractor, cuts and uproots the stubble, also drills wheat seeds on the cleared up soil and throws the previously uprooted stubble over the seeds simultaneously. The THS can also be integrated with another machine, the Super Straw Management System which spreads the straw evenly. The next best known use would be using the straw as a useful resource in Organic – Compost manufacture and Bio – Gas production. Another new radius where these stubble find application is in the manufacture of Bio – Ethanol production as bio ethanol is promisingly projected as one of the contenders of India’s rising energy needs. Other than these, paddy straw is used as cattle feed, packaging material and also in the making of paddy – straw – briquettes, a new fuel source.

Watch the Operation of Turbo Happy seeder

Most of the uses are widely known yet stubble processing is not seen as a profitable venture. Though the Punjab government’s recent announcement of Paddy Straw Challenge Fund of $1 million for scientists around the world to present technological solutions on crop residue management is fairly considerable, both the state and central governments must make attractive markets for the neglected stubble, providing entrepreneurs incentives via popular schemes like Start up India, Make in India to establish start – ups and business units with stubble as the raw material.

Let not the farmer set fire, set him on fire !


Chandini S Amaan
Chandini S is a Sericulture Graduate fascinated by the Unadulterated, Countrified, Rope – Cot Styled Life. Correct her, if she deserves to be. Teach her, if she needs to be. She is affably waiting to grow at the other end of