Stubble burning: Delhi at risk of another smog attack as Punjab farmers have little alternative but burn straw India -Arjun Sharma

Late sowing, lack of government incentive to remove stubble mechanically have often led farmers in Punjab and Haryana to burn paddy stubble during autumn to immediately prepare the fields for wheat cultivation. Consequently, the stubble burning occurs on such a huge scale that it even engulfs Delhi in a canopy of smog: thus causing serious pollution for days and health issues.

For two winters, Delhi has made international headlines for its toxic air, with multiple countries classifying the national capital a punishment posting for its diplomats. This year might be no different with air pollution already in the ‘poor’ category and making news.

It’s Delhi’s nearby states that are frequently blamed for increasing the winter smog due to stubble burning. In neighbouring Punjab, the paddy fields are set on fire yearly – a fallout of the state’s efforts to conserve groundwater.

The issue has been a bone of contention between Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Punjab counterpart Captain Amarinder Singh, who even had a Twitter spat over it.

Paddy this year was cultivated on more than 30 lakh hectares (against nearly 29 lakh hectares last year) of land in Punjab, and the government estimates that 15 million tonne of paddy straw is burnt in the state annually.

Punjab’s paddy problem

Till 2008, the state’s farmers could sow paddy, a water-guzzling crop, anytime. To clear their fields later, many of them used to dig huge pits in which they dumped the paddy straw to convert it into manure. At that time, migratory labour in Punjab was also cheap and that helped in the removal of the straw.

But in a bid to conserve groundwater, the Punjab government, through a notification under Punjab Preservation of SubSoil Water Act, 2009, fixed 10 June as the date before which paddy crop could not be sowed.

Later, in 2014, another notification fixed the date to June 15 and this year it was further extended to 20 June.

The late sowing resulted in the delayed harvesting of the crop, leaving the farmers with little time to sow the next crucial crop -- wheat.

When sown in fields after 20 June, paddy is harvested in mid-October. On the other hand, the wheat-sowing season is late October to November. Thus, to clear the fields off paddy straw swiftly, the farmers resort to burning them.

Please click here to read more., 10 October, 2018,

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