New Delhi: Despite numerous efforts by the Punjab and Haryana governments and the annual air quality emergency condition in North India at the onset of winters, farm waste burning has increased in the last three years. The government has even implemented a ban on burning stubble but in 2015, 111 Metric Tonnes (MT) of farm waste was burned as compared to the 117 MT in 2017. Dr. Ravindra Khaiwal, Professor at School of Public Health PGIMER, Chandigarh and the co-author of a new report, noted that out of the total crop residue, 24 per cent is burned and this rate will go up by 150 times in the next 30 years, resulting in increase in air pollution by 45 per cent by the year 2050, if necessary measures are not implemented.
Centre has allocated almost 700 crores for the two-year action plan drafted by the state government to tackle the issue of farm waste management. The Punjab government has provided farmers the machines to manage the paddy straw, but agrees that the number of machines are insufficient and the temporary measure can tackle only 22 million tonnes of paddy straw produced annually in Punjab and the 6.5 million tonnes in Haryana.
Government is aiming to double the number of machines by next year. To make the machines affordable for farmers, the government is also providing a subsidy of 80 per cent to buy the machines.
During the current year, we have assigned Rs.270 crore to build up cache straw management equipment with an addition of 21 crores on awareness campaigns through various mediums. We have provided 8000 machines this year and next year the number of machines will be doubled, a government spokesperson told NDTV.
However, in order to buy these machines even after availing the 80 per cent subsidy provided, the farmers still need to shell out Rs.20,000.
The subsidies being offered is 50 per cent for individual farmers and 80 per cent for cooperative societies for the machinery, these are no longer supporting the farmer as the prices of the machines have gone up. Intervention for a forceful shift to introduce crop diversity and stubble management have failed so far. The government is implementing the order partially. We will be fined if we burn the paddy straw. Secondly, they have said that the machinery will be provided free of cost. The government has supplied less than four per cent of the total machinery required to the farmers, Bharatiya Kisan Union’s (BKU) president Balbir Singh Rajewal pointed out.
Farmers in Punjab are defiant and have decided to go ahead with burning their stubble even this year despite the ban. Considering the problems of the farmers, Mr.Rajewal said, “The farmers will burn the residue as they do it every year.”
Dr. Hiren Jethva, Scientist with Universities Space Research Association at National Aeronautics and Space Administration, told NDTV that we can expect thousands of farm fires in the next two months.
My analysis says that there are going to be 14,000 farm fires this year during October and November in only Punjab and Haryana, which is lesser than the number of fires we saw in 2016 but it’s a very minor reduction.
Devinder Sharma, an agriculture expert from Punjab asserts that machines are not the answer but it is cash handouts that can make a difference to the problem of paddy straw management, as machine will only solve the problem of stubble burning by 4 per cent, but what happens to the 96 per cent farmers is still the question.
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amrinder Singh while speaking to NDTV during the 12-hour Cleanathon on October 2, explained the reason why farmers resort to stubble burning despite the awareness and what could be the long term solution to the problem.
Stubble burning is the cheapest option for the farmers to treat the paddy straw. We have invested money in machines which farmers are being provided and teaching them the alternatives. We are monitoring the farm fires via satellite and immediately taking action against them. So, by now farmers are aware of the consequences, penalty wise and environment wise, he said.
But the Chief Minister also highlighted that machines are not a permanent solution to the massive issue of stubble burning.
Last year, I wrote to Prime Minister explaining how machines are temporary or a part of the solution, to resolve the issue in its entirety, we need to pay Rs.100 per quintal more to the farmers, that would become Rs.2000 per acre and that’s when they will have the additional money to carry out another operation. Out of 17.5 lakh farmers in Punjab, 10.5 lakh are farming on or under five acres of land and they cannot afford to spend money on carrying out an operation to keep the environment clean unless they’re provided help. Therefore, we have asked the PM to give us Rs.100 more for ever quintal, and then we can ensure that every field is kept out of stubble burning, he added.
Farm fires are major sources of pollutants like Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5 and PM 10. In 2017, it led to 800 gigaram of PM 2.5 and PM 10, pushing the pollution surge so high that some monitoring stations in Delhi reported an Air Quality Index of 999 as compared to the moderate air quality of 200 prescribed by World Health Organisation. According to Dr. K K Agarwal, President of the Heart Care Foundation of India, this severely poor air quality PUT children at the highest risk. Air pollution harms the body in incalculable ways, Dr. Agarwal further explained that PM 10 can lead to Asthama and respiratory issues whereas PM 2.5 can lead to heart attack, high blood pressure and even paralysis.
With this marginal impact on stubble burning issue, the question remains – how will the government stop this?
Dr. Aridam Datta from The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi (TERI) stressed on education being the key in order to control stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana but pointed out how the government is spending the least amount of money on educating the farmers.
Out of the Rs.137 crores allocated to Haryana government to tackle the stubble burning, 72 crores were spent on farm machinery, 35 crores were spent on individual farmers and only the remaining 21 crores were spent for the farmer’s education. It is most important to prioritise education at this point, teaching the farmers to manage crop residue and explaining them the reasons behind why they should stop burning farms.
Dr. Ravindra Khaiwal, Professor at School of Public Health PGIMER, Chandigarh and the co-author of the new air pollution report, believes the government is making significant efforts to spread awareness, using mass media like radio, television ads and newspapers, but it is still unable to reach the ground level.
According to him, farmers have a very small sowing window and government needs to reach out to the poor farmers to fill the gap and teach them of some alternative options to stubble burning. He also believes the community of farmers would be eager and motivated to learn about alternative steps as at the end of the day, they do understand that their own community would be the first one to suffer the hazards of air pollution.
Meanwhile in New Delhi, the air quality has touched the poor category with the AQI on Sunday recorded at 201. An emergency plan called Graded Response Action Plan to combat the air pollution has been rolled out on October 15.
Delhi Environment Minister Imran Hussain on October 14, released photographs of stubble burning across the Delhi-Chandigarh National Highway and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal blamed the poor air quality on the inaction of the Punjab government.
We have been pursuing with Central Haryana and Punjab govts, yet no concrete action has been taken. Farmers again helpless. The entire region including Delhi will again become gas chamber. People will again face difficulty in breathing. This is criminal. https://t.co/SDyXLTDvnc
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) October 12, 2018
Measures like mechanised sweeping of roads, ban on garbage burning, pollution control measures at brick kilns and deployment of police to ensure smooth passage of traffic at vulnerable areas are in force in the Delhi NCR region.
If the air quality deteriorates further to very poor category then in addition measures like enhancing parking fees 3-4 times and increasing frequency of metro and buses would be implemented, an official with the Central Pollution Control Board said.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swachh India campaign lends support to the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, the campaign aims to spread awareness about hygiene and sanitation, the importance of building toilets and making India open defecation free (ODF) by October 2019, a target set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014. Over the years, the campaign has widened its scope to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and menstrual hygiene. The campaign has also focused extensively on marine pollution, clean Ganga Project and rejuvenation of Yamuna, two of India’s major river bodies.