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Examining Possible Policy Interventions

Curbing Stubble Burning

The root cause of stubble burning and the lapses on the part of the central and state governments in controlling it are examined. The injustice done to farmers in the past is analysed, and possible policy interventions are suggested.

A few days before Diwali, New Delhi had been left choking with polluted air, foul and poisonous, leading to a health emergency. If air pollution during the three-week period around Diwali in 2017 was bad, 2019 was still worse. The spike in air pollution, measured through the worsening air quality index (AQI), was blamed on the burning of paddy stubbles in the fields of North India. There is no denying that paddy harvesting season in Punjab, Haryana and parts of western Uttar Pradesh (UP) does aggravate the bad air quality in New Delhi, and also causes severe air pollution in the Indo–Gangetic plains itself, but a continuous media howl had projected farmers as the culprit, as if they were doing it deliberately.

Facing flak from various agencies, including the National Green Tribunal (NGT), a large number of farmers who indulged in burning the stubble left in the fields were hounded, imposed with fines, threatened with withdrawals of subsidies. With first information reports (FIRs) lodged against them and the fire incidents treated as a cognisable offence, farmers have been treated like petty criminals. While state governments were using satellite data to pin down farmers who resorted to crop residue burning, there is no denying that a lot of initiatives were taken by farmers, including mulching and composting, in an effort to look for alternatives. The Prime Minister himself had mentioned in his radio talk “Mann ki baat” on 28 October 2018 at least two initiatives by Punjab farmers who had vowed not to resort to stubble burning. But, a large section of farmers had remained defiant, more so as an expression of indignation, at the refusal of the policymakers to understand the difficulties they faced. Knowing that coercive methods against farmers will not work, and realising that farmers have little choice but to put the paddy stubbles on fire, given the short window before the wheat sowing season begins, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had written to the Prime Minister, seeking an incentive of `100 per quintal to be given to farmers, which comes to roughly `2,500 per acre, so as to offset the additional cost that farmers are expected to incur, to manage the paddy stubbles without resorting to burning.

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Updated On : 17th Feb, 2020

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