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Stubble Burning May Just Make Things Worse: Environmental Degradation During Lockdown

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.
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Stubble burning, as a whole, is not an environmental-friendly practice.

There is no denying that the COVID-19 lockdown, to curb the escalating spread of the virus, has had a detrimental impact on the Indian economy. However, amidst all the tension and panic, one can also see a silver lining. In most metropolitan cities of India, there has been a sharp decrease in pollution levels due to the lockdown.

Almost 1.3 billion Indians are compelled to stay at their respective places, due to which there are hardly any vehicles on the road. With a small number of vehicles on road and most industries and factories closed, the existence of the chief pollutants like Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5, PM 10 and Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) has decreased by almost 50% in Delhi.

In the first week of April 2020, according to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), the cumulative Air Quality Index (AQI) in Delhi was 82, which comes under the “satisfactory” categorization. The weekend before that saw the highest air quality in the National Capital Region (NCR) in 2020 with an average AQI of 46. Similar studies have been conducted in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Pune, Kolkata and Bangalore, and in every study, a sharp reduction in PM 2.5, PM 10 and NOx level has been recorded.

Amidst all this, there were reports of farmers in the Tarai region resorting to stubble burning as they were unable to sell off straws generated after the harvest. A similar concern has been raised by journalist and economist, Prannoy Roy, who claims that gradually, in India, farmers will begin the practice of stubble burning, which is highly detrimental as the smoke that is evolved affects people’s lungs severely and together with the coronavirus, it would be even more lethal. To be clear, stubble burning is practiced primarily in the case of paddy. Wheat stubble burning is still a very new practice in India as it is predominantly used for cattle feed.

Stubble burning, as a whole, is not an environmental-friendly practice. The smoke released due to the burning highly contributes to the escalation in air pollution. Harmful greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide, etc. are released during the practice. Why is stubble burning associated with the COVID-19 lockdown since it already was a common practice?

Resorting to the practice of stubble burning due to the given circumstance will again lead to the degradation in the quality of air. (Photo by Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Towards the end of 2019, a new trend was observed in the states of Punjab and Haryana, where farmers were manually harvesting their crops and not burning the wheat and paddy stubble. Instead, they were selling it to other farmers to use as fodder for their livestock.

They were protecting the environment from harmful greenhouse gases that are emitted during the burning process, and the sale was also acting as an additional income for them. Some farmers would give the straws to paper industries who would utilize it to make biodegradable papers.

However, with the imposed lockdown, most industries and factories are shut, and farmers are unable to sell the stubble. Even finding labour for manual harvesting is difficult during this lockdown. Hence, farmers are left with no other option and resort to stubble burning. The news about the farmers in the Tarai region is also due to the same reason.

Usually, farmers of Balara region in Nepal, which is only a few kilometres from our Indian border, sell their crop residue in India, which is used for cattle feed. However, due to the lockdown, all borders are sealed, and the farmers are unable to sell their stubble in the Indian market.

While we rejoice the decrease in air pollution levels all over the world, one must not forget that these reductions are temporary. Also, one must not speculate that the clear and bright sky indicates that the wider issue of climate change has been tackled and is in control.

A climate scientist at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Wim Thiery, commented, “We need to make a clear distinction between air quality and climate change. When we talk about air quality, yes, less traffic, fewer planes and factory shutdowns mean less NO2 and other pollutants over cities. But for the climate it’s much more complex.

Resorting to the practice of stubble burning due to the given circumstance will again lead to the degradation in the quality of air, and the emitted greenhouse gases will contribute to the global issue of climate change.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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