ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Solutions Marred by Policy Confusion

Crop Residue Burning

Are the ongoing debates on solutions to crop residue burning marred by policy confusion? While bio-compressed natural gas and ethanol producers want farmers to collect paddy straw from their farms to be supplied to plant locations, another lobby of machine sellers wants the straw to be processed in the fields itself. Would the success of one commercial proposition lead to the failure of the other?

The assured irrigation-based agriculture of north-west India produces a large quantity of wheat and paddy to ensure food security of the country. This region produces an equally large quantity of crop residue. Wheat straw is considered a good fodder and is separately harvested using harvester combines with the help of tractor-operated machines. A very small part, around the boundaries of fields, is burnt by the farmers. However, paddy straw that contains silica is not considered suitable for use as animal feed and it is burnt in the fields by farmers after harvesting during October–November. As the time lag between harvesting of the paddy and sowing of wheat is only three weeks, farmers burn paddy straw to quickly clear their fields. There is a general perception among the farmers that if paddy straw is not cleared from the fields immediately, it would hamper the growth of the succeeding crop. Thus, during late October to middle November, the whole of the north-west region appears to be burning and the sky is filled with gases injurious to health. This makes children and the elderly prone to sickness, which often proves fatal in many cases. With decline in visibility due to smog, road/rail accidents also take place frequently, snatching away thousands of lives.

Due to high levels of pollution in the air, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has been issuing directions to governments of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan to take concrete steps to check this menace. The governments have been issuing orders to fine those farmers found burning crop residue. But, until now, these orders have been largely defied by farmers who find no other alternative to burning. They hold the view that alternatives are costly. Zero tillage technology through the use of Happy Seeder machines or mixing of crop residue in the soil through mulching requires purchase of costly machines beyond their reach. The operation of these machines requires tractors with stronger horsepower than those possessed by most of the farmers.

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Updated On : 8th Sep, 2018

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