Urgently Implement Measures to Reduce Stubble Burning, Pollution Control Body Tells Punjab and Haryana

For representation

For representation

According to the Central Pollution Control Board, stubble burning contributed significantly to air pollution in Delhi last year with the share of farm fire smoke in particulate matter peaking to 44 per cent in November.

A Supreme Court-mandated pollution control authority wrote to Punjab and Haryana on Tuesday, asking them to "urgently" implement measures to reduce stubble burning — one of the major reasons behind high levels of air pollution in Delhi during winter. According to the Central Pollution Control Board, stubble burning contributed significantly to air pollution in Delhi last year with the share of farm fire smoke in particulate matter peaking to 44 per cent in November.

"It has been brought to our notice that early burning of crop residue is taking place in Punjab. According to a SAFAR estimate, fire counts were 42 on September 21, around 20 on September 20 and nil on September 15," Bhure Lal, the chairman of the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA), said in a letter to the two states. Satellite imagery from space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have also shown that farmers have started burning crop residue in parts of Punjab and Haryana.

Though farm fires have started in Punjab and neighbouring border regions, its impact on Delhi's air quality will be minimal for the next three days since predominant winds are not supportive for transport and accumulation of pollutants, according to SAFAR, the Ministry of Earth Sciences' air quality monitor. On Tuesday, the national capital recorded an air quality index of 115, which falls in the moderate category.

"While the impact on air pollution is currently minimal as wind speed is high and there is dispersion, the fact is that crop burning season has started and it needs to be urgently addressed as per the directions of the Supreme Court," Bhure Lal said. He asked the states to make all efforts to comply with the directions of the apex court which has specified that measures need to be taken for both "in-situ and ex-situ stubble management so that incidence of fire is minimized, if not eliminated".

The EPCA chairman said the pollution control authority had been monitoring progress with the states and had worked out clear benchmarks and targets to be achieved before the coming season. "We recognise that we have lost time because of COVID-19, but given that the winter season is now approaching, we need to tackle this with urgency and ensure compliance," he said.

Bhure Lal asked Punjab and Haryana to ensure there is an implementation of measures to reduce stubble burning and that machines are procured and made available to farmers at affordable rates and with convenience. The EPCA also asked them to set up a control room to issue directions and ensure that machines are within the reach of farmers, and also take action against non-compliance reported from the field.

The Punjab government had earlier told the EPCA that it has been utilising crop residue through biomass-based power plants and various bio-CNG projects are under process. The state has now proposed to set up a 25-megawatt solar-biomass project.

Punjab has already set up 7,378 custom hiring centres (CHCs) to provide equipment for crop residue management. The state will establish 5,200 more CHCs this year to accomplish the target of having one CHC in each village. The administration will provide 220 balers this year, according to the EPCA. Farmers sell bales to nearby factories, mainly biomass plants, at around Rs 120 per quintal.

Till now, the state has provided 50,185 farm machines to CHCs and individuals. Last year, Punjab produced around 20 million tonnes of paddy residue. Farmers burnt 9.8 million tonnes of it. These figures will be used as a benchmark for the state's performance this year.

The Haryana government had told EPCA that a committee has been set up to look into the progress of bio-CNG and bio-ethanol projects and biomass plants to manage crop residue. The state has set up 2,879 CHCs and 2,000 more will be established by October. As many as 791 balers will be supplied by the time harvesting starts. Haryana has deployed 24,705 machines, of which 8,777 are owned by individuals and the rest are with CHCs.

Last year, Haryana produced seven million tonnes of paddy residue, of which farmers burnt 1.23 million tonnes. Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh attract attention during the paddy harvesting season between October 15 and November 15.

Farmers set their fields on fire to quickly clear off the crop residue left behind after harvesting and before cultivating wheat and potato. It is one of the main reasons for the alarming spike in pollution in Delhi-NCR. Despite a ban on stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana, farmers continue to defy it as there is a short window between harvesting of paddy and sowing of wheat. The high cost of manual or mechanical management of straw is a major reason why farmers choose to burn it.

State governments are providing 50 to 80 per cent subsidy to farmers and cooperative societies to buy modern farm equipment for in-situ management of paddy straw, installing paddy straw-based power plants and running a massive awareness campaign against stubble burning. But these measures are yet to make any significant impact on the ground.

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