Crop Burning: Punjab and Haryana's killer fields -Polash Mukerjee

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published Published on Oct 14, 2016   modified Modified on Oct 15, 2016
-Down to Earth

Punjab produces about 19-20 million tonnes of paddy straw and about 85-90 per cent of this paddy straw is burnt in the field

Burning of agricultural biomass residue, or Crop Residue Burning (CRB) has been identified as a major health hazard. In addition to causing exposure to extremely high levels of Particulate Matter concentration to people in the immediate vicinity, it is also a major regional source of pollution, contributing between 12 and 60 per cent of PM concentrations as per various source apportionment studies. In addition, it causes loss of vital components such as nitrogen, phosphorus, sulphur and potassium from the topsoil layer, making the land less fertile and unviable for agriculture in the long run.

Causes and Scale

The main causes of crop residue burning are two-fold. Firstly, there is a very short window of time between harvesting of paddy and cultivation of wheat, at the end of the Kharif season. Paddy, or rice, is a water-intensive crop. The high usage of water in its cultivation has resulted in the central and various state governments restricting the cultivation of paddy in the summer months. In order to prevent diversion of scarce water resources in the summer, paddy cultivation can legally begin only around mid-June, when the monsoons typically arrive over North India. This further delays thecut short to the root with a knife, the large units of harvesters leave 6-10 cm of paddy stalk on the field. The rise in incomes and the subsequent availability of mechanical implements in Punjab and Haryana lead to increased mechanisation of agriculture over the past 10-15 years.

Traditionally, farm labour in these states was in the form of seasonal, migrant workers from the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Since 2005, the demand for these workers saw a reduction, and accordingly, the availability of assured income from farm labour has declined. The launch of an assured rural income scheme in the form of the NREGA further led to income opportunities in their home states. As a result, agricultural labour has become a scarce commodity in parts of Punjab and Haryana.

The removal of the paddy stalk that remains on the field is a labour-intensive process. With labour being unavailable and the time window for preparing the field for wheat cultivation being limited, the options that the farmer has are either investing in expensive and rarely used agricultural implements, or burning the residue right on the field. Of the two, the latter is both cheaper and requires less effort.

As per estimates, Punjab produces approximately 19-20 million tonnes of paddy straw and about 20 million tonnes of wheat straw. About 85-90 per cent of this paddy straw is burnt in the field, and increasingly, wheat straw is also being burnt during the Rabi harvesting season. In Haryana, the problem of paddy straw burning also exists, although the scale is smaller than in Punjab. Paddy straw production is estimated at 2 million tonnes.

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Down to Earth, 12 October, 2016,

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