Agri Business

Delhi air pollution cannot be blamed on Punjab Haryana Subsoil Water Act

Rajalakshmi Nirmal | Updated on November 11, 2019 Published on November 11, 2019

File photo   -  PTI

It can’t be denied that one of the reasons for the air pollution in Delhi since mid-October is stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana. But there have been media reports claiming that the Subsoil Water Act enacted in the two States in 2009 is the root cause of the problem. Since the Act forced farmers to delay paddy cultivation till June, harvests have been delayed and pushed to October when wind direction changes, thus bringing the dust from stubble burning to Delhi and NCR. 

A preliminary research done by BusinessLine, however, shows there is no truth in the above claim. 

Dates don’t matter

If it was only the date of transplantation of the seedling that decides when a farmer completes the harvest, then there should have been fewer fire events this year. Paddy sowing was allowed to begin on June 13 this year as against June 20last year. But there have 43,181 fire events so far this year from September 23 as against 37,928 observed last year, data from Punjab Remote Sensing Centre showed. 

Why did the fire counts increase despite seven more days available to remove the stubble? So, it is not about the date of transplantation that is prompting stubble burning, argue scientists at Punjab Agriculture University. The higher number of fire events in Punjab this year is to be blamed on the unfavourable weather. 

Weather factor

Baldev Singh Dhillon, Vice-Chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University, said: “This year, there was a dry spell in June and there were no rains till July 1. Then rains did come, but at the flowering stage of the paddy crop and it was accompanied by above normal temperature during second half of August and first half of September. Then, suddenly, temperature fell below normal from September 25 to mid-October. As a result, paddy crops were hit. Yields this year are lower compared with last year and there is an increase in straw quantity.” 

The higher quantity of straw explains why there were more fires this year.Also, because of rains, there was delay in maturity of the crop and its harvest, which left less time to clear the fields of stubble, Dhillon added. 

‘No delayed harvesting’

The Subsoil Water Act enacted in 2009 has in no way delayed harvesting, said Balwinder Singh Sidhu, Agriculture Commissioner and Member Secretary, Punjab State Farmers Commission, who was at the forefront in the implementation of the Act in 2009. “Earlier, the second crop of paddy was sown between June 5 and June 10 and it is done around the same time now also. By the Act, we only ensured that farmers don’t take Sati paddy – the short duration paddy grown in 60 days where sowing starts end-April or May, when temperature touches 42-45 degrees Celsius and the evaporation rate of moisture is very high.” 

Before 2009, farmers in Punjab and Haryana grew two crops between April and September. The first was a short duration crop which was between mid-April and beginning of June and the second crop between mid-June and October. Since the first crop grown in May was solely dependent on groundwater, the State authorities wanted farmers to stop it given the precarious groundwater situation. 

There has always been a paddy crop that was sown beginning/mid-June and harvested in mid-October. The problem arises only when harvests are delayed to end-October due to unfavourable weather or other reasons (like non-availability of labour or machinery to clear the stubble) and winter sets in. With cold weather, slow wind and high moisture, all the particulate matter and gases from stubble burning stay in one place and don’t go away fast. As wind changes direction and starts to blow from northwest to the southeast during this period, the pollution from stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana lands in Delhi. 

It is also to be noted that the Punjab Agriculture University’s new paddy variety  PR 126, which can be harvested in 90-95 days after transplanting, has become quite popular in the State. So, a farmer who does transplanting in July first week, can harvest by mid or end-September and has more time to prepare the field for the next crop. Earlier, the majority of farmers used Pusa 44 variety, which was taking 120-130 days to mature.

Ground water situation – improvement seen

In a report of the Central ground Water Board in 2017, it was seen that almost 80 per cent of all taluks (109 of 138) assessed in Punjab where in the over-exploited zone; four units were categorized as ‘Critical’, three units as ‘Semi-Critical’ and 26 units as ‘Safe’. But that said, it is an improvement from it was in 2009. For instance, Amritsar, in 2009, was in the over-exploited category, but as per the 2013 study, it is in the critical zone. Similarly, Ferozpur, Mansa, and Nawanshahr also moved from over-exploited to critical zone in the period. Hoshiarpur moved from over-exploited to safe zone. Pathankot, Ropar, and Bathinda districts are others that come under the safe zone.

Ground water levels which were dropping at the rate of 90 cms per year between 2000 and 2008, have since reduced to a drop of 60 cms per year, says Balwinder Singh Sidhu.

Published on November 11, 2019
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