Stubble Burning and Air Pollution UPSC

Stubble Burning and Air Pollution, Why in News ? : The article appeared in THE HINDU editorial page “Less pollution, more soil fertility”

What is Stubble burning ?

  • Stubble burning refers to the practice of farmers setting fire to plant debris that remain in farms after harvest.
  • The origin of stubble burning can be traced to the advent of the Green Revolution and mechanized harvesting, which utilised the combined harvesting technique.
  • However, the popular combined harvesting technique was not efficacious, as machines left behind one­foot­tall stalks.

Why stubble burning ?

  • For winter crop (Rabi crop), farmers in Haryana and Punjab gets a very short interval and if delayed, due to short winters these days, there is chance of considerable losses. Hence, burning is the cheapest and fastest way to get rid of the stubble.
  • Also if stubble is left in the field, pests like termites, slugs and other pests including those resistant to herbicide and may attack the upcoming crop.
  • Farmers are not well equipped economically – To deal with waste because they cannot afford the new technology that is available to handle the waste material.
  • After green revolution and MSP system people of Indo-Gangetic shifted to rice cultivation and have led to a rise in the rice acreage.
  • Enhanced used of modernised farm mechanisation extract the rice grains only and leave large quantities of rice stubble behind.
  • Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act 2009 – This mandated farmers to delay sowing of paddy to late June to discourage groundwater extraction. Which eventually led to delay of an average of 10 days compared to 2002-2008 and now due to the delayed harvesting, rice chaff burning coincides perfectly with the withdrawal of southwest monsoon.
  • High Silica Content: Rice straw is considered useless as fodder in the case of non-basmati rice, because of its high silica content.

Impact of stubble burning

  • Air Pollution: Open stubble burning emits large amounts of toxic pollutants in the atmosphere which contain harmful gases like methane (CH4), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Volatile organic compound (VOC) and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Causing a formation of SMOG.
  • Also, it leads to spike in Particulate Matter levels, contributing between 12 and 60 per cent of PM concentrations.
  • Smog clouds of ash and smoke from stubble burning can travel more than thousand kilometers aided by the Westerly winds coming from the Mediterranean region. Reducing visibility and causing accident.
  • Soil Fertility: Burning stubble on ground destroys the nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, Sulfur and potassium from the topsoil, making it less fertile in the soil, making it less fertile.
  • The nutrients lost and proportion of straw were:
  • Nitrogen 16kg (straw 80%)
  • Phosphorous 0.5kg (straw 40%)
  • Potassium 17kg (straw 60%)
  • Sulphur 1kg (straw 50%)
  • Heat Penetration: Heat generated by stubble burning penetrates into the soil, leading to the loss of moisture and useful microbes.
  • Health: Crop Residue Burning (CRB) has been identified as one of the major health hazard and a reason for breathing illness, irritation of eyes and respiratory tract diseases.
  • Lose of Soil nutrition: Burning husk on ground destroys the nutrients. Heat generated by stubble burning penetrates into the soil, leading to the loss of the moisture and useful microbes.
  • Economic loss: Crop residue also holds high productive value in biofuel and fiber industry. Burning it deprives the farmers of higher economic returns and sources of clean energy.

Government Initiative taken

  • Penalty and prosecution : Crop residue burning is an offence under the Air Act of 1981, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and various appropriate Acts. In addition, a penalty is being imposed on any offending farmer.
  • In 2015 National Green Tribunal banned  stubble burning burning in the states of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab

Supreme Court observations:

  • Minimum Support Price (MSP) Scheme must be so interpreted as to enable the States concerned to wholly or partly deny the benefit of MSP to those who continue to burn the crop residue
  • Incentives could be provided to those who are not burning the stubble and disincentives for those who continue the practice.     

Union Government: Under a 100% centrally-funded scheme, machines that help farmers in in-situ management—by tilling the stubble back into the soil—were to be provided to individual farmers at 50% subsidy and to custom hiring centres (CHCs) at 80% subsidy. 


State Government : Haryana has set up 2,879 CHCs so far and has provided nearly 16,000 straw-management machines, it has to set up 1,500 more and has to cover nearly as many panchayats it has reached so far.

Similarly, Punjab, which has provided 50,815 machines so far, will need to set up 5,000 more CHCs—against 7,378 set up already—and reach 41% of its panchayats by October 2020.

  • Use of Technology to monitor: Use of satellite imagery and a team comprising local officials has been deployed to monitor incidences of crop burning in the states of Punjab and Haryana.
  • Awareness: Youth clubs, Kisan camps, radio and television campaigns have been started to spread awareness on scientific crop residue management.

Also Trained cadres of agriculture scientists, assistants and workers can be deployed to create awareness clarify doubts about machines and disseminate information on residue procurement.

  • Subsidies modern Technology to discourage Stubble burning: Government has been providing subsidies ranging from 50-80% to farmers to buy crop residue disposal machines like Happy Seeders machine (on rent basis).

Way Forward

  • Source of clean energy : Promote paddy straw-based power plants. It will also create employment opportunities.
  • Improve soil productivity:Incorporation of crop residues in the soil can improve soil moisture and help activate the growth of soil microorganisms for better plant growth.
  • Better sources organic farming: An expansion of schemes like the MGNREGA for harvesting and composting of stubble. Can promote model of Narwa (rivulet regeneration), Garuwa (cattle conservation), Ghuruwa (composting) and Baari (kitchen garden)
  • An innovative experiment has been undertaken by the Chhattisgarh government by setting up “gauthans”.
  • The most efficient technology to counter stubble burning at the moment is Turbo Happy Seeder (THS).
  • It not only cuts and uproots the stubble but can also drill wheat seeds in the soil that have just been cleared up. The straw is simultaneously thrown over the sown seeds to form a mulch cover.
  • Establishing Farm Machinery Banks for custom hiring of in-situ crop residue management machinery.
  • Co-operative societies of farmers, self-help groups, registered farmers societies/farmers groups, private entrepreneurs for establishment of farm machinery banks or custom hiring centres.
  • Financial incentives to small and marginal farmers to engage in the management of the residue of their non-basmati variety rice crop in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
  • Shifting cropping pattern away from paddy to maize, cotton, fruits or vegetables in Punjab, Haryana and UP.
  • Stopping crop residue burning will aid the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), which aims to reduce pollution by 20-30% in annual PM concentration by 2024.
  • Wealth from the stubble: There is great potential for making investments in paddy straw-based power plants which can help avoid stubble burning to a large extent and also create employment opportunities.
  • New opportunities for industrial use such as extraction of yeast protein can be explored through scientific research.
  • The long-term solution has to be crop diversification, away from paddy

Stubble Burning and Air Pollution UPSC

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