In a recent development, Supreme Court (SC) has intervened to monitor the stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
This comes in the wake of severe air pollution in the surrounding regions, especially Delhi-NCR, caused due to emissions from stubble burning in the ‘Grain Bowl of India’ (North-West India)
The SC appointed a Lokur Committee headed by retired judge Justice Madan B Lokur, who will be assisted by:
- The Environment Pollution Authority (EPCA)
- The secretaries of the states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh
- National Cadet Corps
- National Service Scheme
- Bharat Scouts
The committee will conduct field inspections and work towards reducing the impending air pollution from stubble burning
In 2017, the Centre for Pollution Control Board (CPCB) rolled out the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) for Delhi & NCR, to improve the air quality in the capital city. Curbing pollution by controlling traffic, construction activities, industrial pollution etc are few of the key actions enlisted.
Along with the Lokur committee, the CPCB is adhering to the rules of GRAP, to identify and impose sanctions on the violators of rules, in this case stubble burning, backed by Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar
Why did Supreme Court Intervene?
Stubble burning in 2019, caused severe air pollution in Delhi, sending the Particulate matter (PM) 2.5 emission concentrations to 44% from 6% (which is attributed to local sources of pollution from traffic and Industries).
According to WHO, the PM2.5 concentration in healthy air is 25 μg/m³ 24-hour mean, however the PM 2.5 concentrations in Delhi during the stubble burning season went upto an average of 458 μg/m³ in 2019.
NASA satellite imagery helped identify upto 4000 farm fires in Punjab and Haryana alone, which amounted to large scale air pollution across the surrounding regions.
During this period, there was a huge dip in the Air Quality Index (AQI) for Delhi from 141 in October to 500 in November 2019, causing severe respiratory illnesses across the demographic.
What is stubble burning?
Every year (October-November) farmers in the North-West region of India, burn their farm after harvesting their crop (mainly rice), to clear the stubble which is the remaining stalk of the crop left behind after harvesting.
Farmers in India opt for this due to:
- Fastest and Cheapest option of stubble removal- with a gap of just 10days between harvesting rice and sowing wheat seeds, stubble burning is cheaper and faster
- Lack of awareness on available harvesting technologies, and greener alternatives
Stubble burning has been practiced around the world across USA, England, Canada, Australia, India and China. It was gradually faced out and banned in these countries due to its impact on air quality, however, it is still being practiced in India and China.
This technique not just pollutes the air but greatly degrades the soil by robbing it of the key nutrients, emitting toxic gases, kills useful microorganisms – reducing the fertility of the soil.
Alternate machinery: Use of an indigenously designed harvester called the ‘Happy Seeder’ – which shreds the stubble/crop residue to tiny pieces and spreads it across the field. Research study on the use of this equipment identified a significant reduction in emissions from burning and an increase in the profits per hectare of farm.
Private company intervention: Private firms can invest in equipment manufacturing and R&D into required machinery to reduce costs and increase availability for farmers
Designing a communication strategy: Government of India has rolled out many programs and subsidies for farmers to educate and prohibit them from this practice. There is an urgent need for farmer education and inclusion in moving towards a sustainable farming technique that is mutually beneficial
Robust Monitoring and Control Plan: The most important step of all, is to design a resilient plan for monitoring the activities using remote sensing and field data, which will provide a comprehensive view required for control – through sanctions and penalties.
The efforts of various agencies and committees are redundant without the participation of farmers and local communities. A holistic and inclusive approach is the need of the hour!