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Stubble Burning and Pollution in National Capital

The National capital is on constant radar due to its decreasing air quality levels. Along with Overpopulation and Emission from Motor Vehicles, there are various other factors that contribute to the increasing pollution. A cloud of smoke and soot is a clear sight in the states of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi during late September and October. The reason behind these toxic clouds is the result of stubble burning.

Stubble Burning is the process where farmers set fire to large stacks of straw stubble that remains after the harvest of grains such as paddy and wheat. In countries like China, United Kingdom and Australia, stubble burning is banned due to its harmful effects on the environment and increasing pollution levels. In India, in spite of placing a ban on stubble burning by the Punjab Pollution Control Board, many farmers still continue with the practice.  

It is stated that farmers in Punjab and Haryana burn an estimated 35 million tons of crop waste from their paddy fields after harvesting. [1] These high quantities of left-over straw is a result of using a combination of harvester and thresher for the harvesting process. As per them, this burning procedure becomes a cost effective medium as well as saves time so as to speed up their process for sowing next season crops. In view of saving time and cost, the harmful effects of this process are often neglected by them. With these massive amounts of burning on the crop land, there results a decrease in soil’s essential nutrient level, microbial activity and organic content which in the long run reduces the soil’s productivity. [2]The other alternative to stubble removal is manually which proves to be a tedious job through work, cost and time. With an estimation, a farmer requires Rs.6,000 – 7,000 to remove stubble from 1 acre. With a view to reduce stubble burning, the Punjab Government came up with the new technology of Happy Seeder or the Turbo Happy Seeder.

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The Happy Seeder, initially developed in 2002 by Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) in collaboration with Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) was introduced for farmer’s use in 2005-06. It is a tractor mounted machine that cuts and lifts rice straw sows wheat into the soil and deposits the straw over the sown area as mulch. With this new initiative, the farmers were willing to use the Happy Seeder, but for its usage, two factors posed a problem. They include:

  • Per hour rent of the happy seeder stayed at Rs.1,000 and this also involved paying diesel charges for it at Rs.2,000.
  • Per Happy Seeder, 10 acres of land is covered in a day. The state of Punjab requires 50,000 such Happy Seeders to clear 75 lakh acres of paddy field in 15 days but the government has provided the farmers with only 24,000 Happy Seeders. [3]

With all of above disadvantages according to the farmers, the easier method seems to burn the excess straw and begin with further procedures of sowing the next crop. In this year, there have been a total of 460 cases of stubble burning in Punjab concentrating mainly in Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Patiala and Gurdaspur districts. With these 460 cases, the Punjab Pollution Control Board has imposed a fine of Rs. 12.25 lakhs out of which they have been able to collect only Rs. 70,000. Further adding to this, 8,000 nodal officers have been appointed to have checks over different farm areas in Punjab for stubble burning. Over 23,000 crop residue management machines are being given to farmers for on-site management of straw. [4] With the ongoing pandemic, Punjab CM Amarinder Singh requested farmers not to burn stubble as the smoke out of it not only causes high pollution, but will also aggravate COVID-19 conditions in the territory. [5]

According to a study, on an annual basis, Delhi loses 10,000 – 30,000 lives with approximately 80 lives a day due to its poor air quality level. This year, due to the pandemic, the capital has recorded high death rates and air pollution has also contributed to increased death rates. A research conducted by Ministry of Earth Sciences posted that with an overall of 41%, the pollution in Delhi is caused due to Vehicular emissions[6] and the contribution of Stubble Burning varies from 40% to 32% to 19% sometimes or even 36% on some days. (Percentage vary due to the amount and quantity of stubble burned in a day in the bordering areas of the capital.)

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Amid the ongoing protests by farmers due to the newly passed farm laws, among the 5 point demand made by them, one point states about exception from punishment and fine for stubble burning. On October 16, 2020, the Supreme Court in an order announced formation of a one-man committee headed by former Supreme Court judge, Justice Madan B. Lokur to monitor/prevent Stubble Burning in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana as every year it choked the national capital with the worst air quality levels. Later by last week of October, Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta informed the SC bench led by CJI S.A. Bobde that the Centre had “proposed a legislation to tackle the problem.” With regard to this statement made, the court put the 16th October order in abeyance until further notice. [7]

Governments in the state of Punjab and Haryana have been punishing farmers with monetary penalties for stubble burning. In the year 2019, over 52,000 farm fires were reported in Punjab alone after paddy harvesting after which, in only 23,000 environmental fines were imposed on farmers and red entries were made next to their lands records which would hinder availability of benefits and subsidies in future. [8] With the lack of monetary incentives and rising danger due to pollution caused, imposing penalties is going to be no solution to the problem of stubble burning as it is technically not possible for wage earning farmer to pay huge sums of fines for violating the rule. Increasing fines will further push them deeper into their existing debts. Rather the farmers should be educated and encouraged to use the alternative methods of stubble removal.

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[1] Stubble burning. Article from WIKIPEDIA. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stubble_burning

[2] How Can We Solve the Problem of Stubble Burning? Written by Amarender Reddy. Article from SCIENCE THE WIRE. https://science.thewire.in/environment/stubble-burning-punjab-haryana-rice-harvesting-wheat-sowing-delhi-air-pollution/#:~:text=These%20agents%20act%20

[3] How Can We Solve the Problem of Stubble Burning? Written by Amarender Reddy. Article from SCIENCE THE WIRE. https://science.thewire.in/environment/stubble-burning-punjab-haryana-rice-harvesting-wheat-sowing-delhi-air-pollution/#:~:text=These%20agents%20act%20

[4] Centre promises law to check stubble burning. Article from THE HINDU. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/centre-promises-law-to-check-stubble-burning/article32947670.ece

[5] Punjab Pollution Control Board imposes total ₹12.25 lakh fine in 460 stubble burning cases. Article from THE HINDU. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/punjab-pollution-control-board-imposes-total-1225-lakh-fine-in-460-stubble-burning-cases/article32814307.ec

[6] Air pollution in Delhi. Article from WIKIPEDIA. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_pollution_in_Delhi#:~:text=India’s%20Ministry%20of%20Earth%20Sciences,dust%20and%2018%25%20to%20industries.

[7] SC puts on hold order appointing Justice Madan Lokur to head panel to prevent stubble-burning. Written by Krishnadas Rajagopal. Article from THE HINDU. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/sc-puts-on-hold-order-appointing-j-lokur-to-head-panel-to-prevent-stubble-burning/article32943149.ece

[8] How Can We Solve the Problem of Stubble Burning? Written by Amarender Reddy. Article from SCIENCE THE WIRE. https://science.thewire.in/environment/stubble-burning-punjab-haryana-rice-harvesting-wheat-sowing-delhi-air-pollution/#:~:text=These%20agents%20act%20


Cite this article (The Bluebook 20th ed.)-

Sakshee Shroff, Stubble Burning and Pollution in National Capital, Ex Gratia Law Journal, (December 23, 2020), https://exgratialawjournal.in/blawg/environmental-law/stubble-burning-and-pollution-in-national-capital-by-sakshee-shroff/.

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Author

Sakshee Shroff
Student - SASTRA Deemed to be University