If we stuck to old fashioned farming, there’d be less than 10,65,50,000 quintals of paddy stubble and cleaner air
Every year, around this time, farmers – mostly in Haryana and Punjab – burn the leftover stubble of their paddy harvest. And every year, the resultant smoke only worsens the national capital’s already polluted air. What hangs heavy in the air and makes everyone wheeze are particulate matter (PM 10, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide). And the reason? Modern techniques of farming.
The Central Pollution Control Board data for Delhi from September 15 till October 24 shows a steep rise in air pollutants particulate matter (PM) 10, PM 2.5 and sulphur dioxide. The carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide levels have fluctuated, having plummeted after registering a peak during mid-October.
“Paddy stubble is the left over after harvesting the crop and it can measure as much as a quintal in an acre (25 quintal per hectare) of paddy farm,” said Kurukshetra Kishan Sabha General Secretary,Pratap Singh Dhariwal.
There are two options to dispose of the stubble, which is used as either fodder or to manufacture cardboard. Farmers can either plough the field repeatedly — as many as five times, according to Dhariwal — or take the easier way out by sprinkling kerosene on the field and lighting it up. Despite this destroying the soil’s nutrients, it is a substantially easier and cheaper alternative.
According to the Additional Director of Agriculture of Haryana, Suresh Kumar, the government bans the burning of paddy. When Joint Director of Agriculture, Haryana, RS Chahal was contacted, he suggested many schemes, from buying the leftover to turning it into fuel or manure and even selling agriculture shredders to farmers on subsidy.
“This is not a new problem, it has been there for a long time,” Chahal said. Yet the state governments are not prepared with a solution to the problem. He suggested schemes that are all prospective initiatives which the government “will” take up in the future. “This is not just our problem, it is a worldwide problem,” he said, when asked why nothing specific was being done to address this concern.
Director Agriculture, Punjab, Jasbir Singh Bains said that the state government is working on many schemes. “We have sent a scheme of Rs 2 crore to the central government. It’ll provide machinery to the farmers like shredders, choppers on a subsidised rate to get rid of the waste,” he said, but had no answer when asked about the absence of any working schemes.
Currently, paddy cultivation in the two states is mammoth, as is the resultant waste. “We have 30,62,000 hectares of farm land under paddy cultivation,” Bains said. This brings the paddy stubble quantity in Punjab to a staggering 7,65,50,000 quintals (total area under cultivation x waste per hectare). Add to this Haryana’s 3,00,00,000 quintals of paddy waste and you get the actual amount of waste in the two states –10,65,50,000 quintals.
And while it may be seen easy to dismiss this as solely the fault of farmers of the region, other factors are involved.
“Why are farmers blamed for this? It’s the machinery. Why is nobody blaming the manufacturers of the combine harvesters?” commented Devinder Sharma, a food policy analyst from Punjab. The combine harvesters leave six to eight inches of stalk when used to harvest paddy. This wasn’t the case when done manually. “The manufacturers of these harvesters should add a system to chop off the remaining stalk too while harvesting,” Sharma adds.
The crop fires choking North India aren’t an unsolvable problem. The problem is who will implement the solutions? As long as the administrative attitude is that of passing the buck — “we are just an advisory body,” Chahal said — every year, North Indian states will be breathless because burning the leftover is simply more cost efficient.
The impact is not just limited to Delhi even though it is the capital’s air quality gets the most press.
According to Delhi Pollution Control Board scientist, Dr MP George, all areas on the downwind side of Haryana and Punjab face the heat (and smoke) of the farm fires. For all those who were wondering if some of this particulate matter over to our neighbours in Pakistan, the answer is no. The predominant wind pattern makes sure the impact remains within India.
While the smoke has more or less blanketed much of North India, in Delhi it is adding to the already-polluted air. The capital’s condition is better than China’s state of affairs, but today’s 9 am NowCast air quality index for Delhi — compiled by the United States Embassy -— was classified “Very Unhealthy”.
“The national capital has a better air quality monitoring system, that’s why it seems that Delhi is the only affected area. The truth is that most of North India is impacted by this,” George said.
So, either the state governments take the disposal of paddy stubble seriously, or Delhites and the rest of North India might have to beg farmers in Haryana and Punjab to go back to harvesting their fields the old fashioned way.