Despite the Supreme Court putting a stop to stubble burning, farmers are still burning crop residue in Punjab and, to a lesser extent, in Haryana but only because solutions are not being easily available.
Alternatives to stubble burning include readily available and affordable super seeder machines that pluck out the crop residue and turn it into manure, incentivising sale of fodder from paddy harvest and flexible sowing dates for paddy as also paddy varieties with shorter cycles for harvesting. In places where such solutions are being implemented, like some of the villages businessline visited in Haryana, incidences of stubble burning have come down.
While Punjab government data mentions about over 2,000 incidents on November 8 and 639 cases until 6 pm on Thursday, only 44 incidents have been reported from Haryana on November 8. Total incidents in six States were 2,541, including 417 in Madhya Pradesh. Madhya Pradesh, in fact, has become the second biggest State in terms of stubble burning, contributing over 7,000 cases this season, though the toxic air from that State does not reach Delhi. Out of the total 34,413 stubble burning incidents between September 15 and November 8, as many as 22,981 cases were reported from Punjab alone, while Haryana was at a distant number three position with 1,649 cases closely followed by Uttar Pradesh with 1,486. Madhya Pradesh stands at number two with 7,132 incidents.
In south and west Haryana, cases of stubble burning have come down as there has been a demand for fodder from Uttar Pradesh which has allowed farmers to employ manual labour and earn better profit while in districts like Fatehabad, Jind, Kaithal, Karnal and Kurukshetra, cases are higher this year. “Farmers are earning better rates of ₹300-500 per quintal more for the paddy (mainly Basmati type) when they use manual harvesting and not hire a combined harvestor. Besides, there is also a demand for paddy straw from Uttar Pradesh,” said Bhupinder Singh, a young enterpreneur in Karhans village of Panipat, Haryana. He said farmers are getting ₹8,000/acre from straw this year as against ₹6,000 last year.
Singh has been renting out his super seeder machine, which is a solution to prevent stubble burning, to farmers for a fee of ₹1,800/acre targets to cover 250 acres this season. He said the cost difference to farmers is only ₹200/acre between using a super seeder and opting for stubble burning and farmers are becoming aware of the adverse effects of stubble burning.
While a super seeder machine helps farmers to convert the crop residue as manure and also simultaneously plant the wheat seeds, even after burning farmers will have to prepare the field and sow the seeds for which they need to spend about ₹1,600 per acre, Singh said.
Whatever be the outcome, the government has to think long-term and put a ban on long-duration paddy varieties, said Vijay Setia, a former president of All India Rice Exporters Association. Setia, known for working with farmers on innovative projects, suggested rice varieties with duration of less than 90-100 days should only be allowed for cultivation as those will give ample time for planting next crop, mainly wheat.
“The government has to think of incentivising farmers so that an economically viable model is developed. The farmers are ready to provide the straw free of cost if any industry wants to use it as raw material, but unfortunately there are no takers,” said Gurvinder Singh, a former sarpanch of Rajgarh in Karnal district.
Singh, also lending a super seeder machine on rent, suggested the government to use, at least partially, the MNREGA workers for manual harvesting, which will not leave any straw on the field. With higher labour cost and non-availability in many parts, farmers are forced to use combined harvester, he said..
Some farmers also suggested the mandate disallowing paddy planting before June 20 in Punjab and Haryana be relaxed so that the sowing starts from an earlier date and gets scattered over a period. With a cut-off date, there is a rush to sow on June 20-21 as if it has become a rule to sow on a particular date, said the farmers. This leads to harvesting of the crop and burning of crop residues happening at the same time and due to wind flow during of that period, the polluted air reaches Delhi, said Harpreet Singh, a senior farmer having experience of over 50 years.