The sentence “winter is coming” was made famous by the mega-series “Game of Thrones”. While the world takes notice of the young climate crusader Greta Thunberg and her amazing grit in talking about the perils of climate change, closer home, there is another situation that refuses to change and comes every winter.
The problem of stubble burning has reached an enormous level, what used to be done by farmers to get rid of waste and remove foliage from the agricultural fields is becoming a pollution hazard affecting not just a particular region, but numerous states. Stubble burning is the burning of the straw stubble that remains after the harvest of paddy and wheat. This is a common practice of preparing the fields for the next harvest as there is little time left for the sowing of seeds and next harvest.
It is similar to the Jhum or shifting cultivation followed in many parts of the world. In India, shifting cultivation is widely followed in Punjab, Haryana and its ramifications can be seen all across North India, especially in winters. Stubble burning causes harmful emission of gases like carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, methane, lead, particulate matters 2.5 and sulphur dioxide. Its effects are dangerous: it can lead to suffocation, acid rain and irritation of eyes and throat, apart from respiratory diseases.
However, despite the drawbacks, authorities still cannot contain the problem, even farmers cannot live without it—as it forms a traditional solution to get rid of the weeds and pests, and preparing the field in the most inexpensive way for the next harvest. According to the U.S.-based International Food Policy Research Institute, India loses around $30 billion annually only in Haryana, Punjab and Delhi due to this factor.
The world is often left aghast at the pollution problem that India faces during winters, last year some international cricketers also wore face masks in their matches. What’s worse is that the problem is increasing manifolds every season and affecting other states, with the air quality in Delhi, Gurugram and Kolkata being even worse than Beijing, which data suggested, had the worst air quality during the same period.
The government should give incentives to the farmers in the form of purchasing their stubble, which can be used for making biodiesel. This can also be done by educating the farmers about the problems of air pollution and its lingering effects. Another stringent measure can be cutting down the minimum support price (MSP) on certain crops for these farmers until they do not adhere to the problem.
Recently, the Punjab Agricultural University and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research developed a tractor-operated machine for the in situ management of stubble called happy seeder, which will help farmers with improved productivity of their produce and stop the problem of stubble burning. What is required is a concerted integrated approach by the government involving all stakeholders to mitigate if not completely remove the problem.