• Only educating farmers about the monetary costs of burning stubble can address the environmental crisis triggered every year in Punjab, says a team of Swiss and Indian researchers
  • Burning stubble, the rice chaff left over after harvesting, is linked to winter air-pollution in the State as well as down-wind Delhi
  • According to the team, the government’s efforts — earmarking funds for specialised farming equipment (for straw management) or enforcing the state-led ban on the practice — are unlikely to solve the problem.
  • Farmer cooperative groups — a key link between government and farmers — ought to be playing a more active role in educating farmers, say key authors associated with the study.
  • “The main message is that farmers are not to blame (for the pollution crisis).
  • On average, about 20 million tonnes of straw are generated in Punjab, and they barely have two to three weeks to dispose them of and prepare the fields for the next crop.
  • Hence the popularity of deploying stubble-burning as a quick and cheap solution.
  • For about a decade now, the Delhi and the Centre have held this practice responsible for the abysmal air quality in the capital in winter.
  • In 2013, the National Green Tribunal issued a directive to Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh asking them to ban such stubble burning.
  • The environment ministers of these States as well as top officials at the Centre declared a “zero tolerance” policy on the burning of stubble, which has been estimated to contribute anywhere from 7% to 78% of the particulate matter-emission load in Delhi during winter.
  • The Centre has spent about ₹600 crore in subsidising farm equipment via village cooperatives to enable farmers to access them and avoid stubble burning. I
  • n 2018, Punjab had disbursed about 8,000 farm implements to individual farmers and set up 4,795 custom hiring centres, from where such machinery could be leased.
  • The cost of hiring these machines was about ₹5,000 an acre, as The Hindu has previously reported.
  • However, the success of these efforts has been mixed, even though stubble-fires in 2018 were fewer than in 2017 and 2016, according to satellite maps by independent researchers.
  • Farmers who had bigger landholdings were more likely to burn straw; those who used combine harvesters (for cutting the straw) as opposed to manual labourers were more likely to engage in burning; and those who burnt or didn’t burn were equally aware of the steps and procedures required to abstain from burning
  • On average, the input costs of farmers who burned straw were about ₹40,000 per acre and those who didn’t about ₹25,000 per acre but the incomes of those who burned and those who didn’t were closer — about ₹60,000 and ₹50,000 respectively.
  • There needs to be greater participation by village cooperatives in being able to impose social norms that would dissuade burners.