Stubble problem remains stubborn

It is post-harvest season in Punjab, Haryana and UP and the time for the burning of paddy stubble all over the region. The burning of crop remnants is a serious environmental threat to the entire region and a major cause of air pollution in the National Capital Region during the winter months. The toxic gases released by the burning of the stubble spread all over and shroud the entire region. It is estimated that farmers burn about 20 million tonnes of stubble before the rabbi sowing. After recognising the gravity of the problem, there has been an attempt to address it by persuading farmers to use mechanical equipment to remove the stubble, instead of burning it. Penalties have also been announced for burning the stubble. Agricultural universities and other institutions have engaged in a campaign to educate farmers on the issue. Even the Supreme Court is monitoring the campaign through an authority appointed by it. 

The campaign has yielded some results, with farmers in many places going in for stubble removal with the help of equipment. Satellite images have shown that farm blazes are not as widely spread as they were during the same period last year. But these are early days. The central government did well to announce a Rs 1,152 crore crop residue management plan for the next two years, which will help farmers to buy equipment to remove stubble. Farmers’ groups and cooperatives are given 80% financial assistance to buy the equipment and individual farmers get a 50% subsidy. The sale of machinery has increased but small and medium farmers still cannot afford to buy the equipment or even take it on rent. Since the subsidy is in the form of reimbursement, many farmers do not have the money to pay for it upfront. They also have to pay for increasingly expensive diesel and labour to work the machinery. 

When the costs are worked out, many farmers have found that it is cheaper to pay the penalty than to buy and use the equipment. Hundreds of them have been fined in both Punjab and Haryana. The governments have deployed a large number of staff to keep a watch on the situation and assist farmers. There is some psychological resistance to the use of machinery because the farmers are used to the easy and cost-free method of setting fire to the stubble. The idea that burning is not good for the soil is yet to sink in. The expectation is that about 40% of the stubble may be mechanically managed this year. The lessons from this year’s campaign should lead to better results next year. 

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Stubble problem remains stubborn

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