NEW DELHI: This year will be a test case for curbing cropstubble burning in Haryana and Punjab, and whether this will improve air quality in Delhi .
The Centre — having decided on an “in-situ management” of crop residue as opposed to collecting paddy straw to use as fuel in power generation or convert it products like bio-char used as fertiliser — has allocated funds to the affected states to subsidise farm machinery that can prevent stubble burning.
The Centre allocated Rs 1,140.3 crore for a sub-mission on agriculture mechanisation in this year’s Union budget, substantially hiking the funds from Rs 525 crore in 2017-18. NCR states are now rolling out the scheme. D K Behera, director, agriculture department, Haryana, told TOI, “Under the new scheme, we will promote custom hiring centres set up by farmer groups but will also cater to individual farmers.”
Haryana has been allocated Rs 216 crore and Punjab, Rs 365 crore for the scheme. “We will encourage farmers groups and cooperative societies rather than individual farmers to buy or rent this machinery. This approach will avoid financial liability and loans,” said Viswajit Khanna, additional chief secretary, agriculture, Punjab.
A sub-committee of the task force on prevention of stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh constituted by the cabinet secretariat submitted its final report to the Supreme Court in January. It advised that in-situ mechanisation allowing use of crop stubble as mulch was more cost effective than removing the plant remains. It also recommended large scale production of such machinery and their positioning in villages before September 2018.
A Niti Aayog-CII report had suggested alternatives to crop-residue burning, including ex-situ management processes. The cabinet secretariat panel, however, observed, “Bio-char production requires collection of paddy straw and its treatment in the field in temporary kilns. This option would require financial support of 9-10% of the minimum support price. Ex-situ options identified by Niti Aayog-CII require significant capital and operating subsidy to become sustainable.”
The central sub-committee instead recommended zero tilling machines for wheat, with paddy straw as mulch. To achieve this, every combine harvester would need to have a separate straw management system — a cutter, spreader and a happy seeder. Use of these components as a package would solve the wheat sowing problem, the report assured. For planting of potato, peas and other vegetable crops, incorporation of paddy straw and its fast decomposition could be achieved using the Rotavator and mould board (MB) plough developed by the Punjab Agricultural University.
The sub-committee suggested the government could provide a flat subsidy of 50% of machinery cost to individual farmers or a subsidy of 75% of machinery cost to cooperative societies, custom hiring centres, farmer’s interest groups and gram panchayats.
The Supreme Courtmandated Environment Pollution Control Authority, which is overseeing the enforcement of the court’s directions on curbing air pollution in NCR, has endorsed the sub-committee’s report, but agriculture experts worry that this may not do much to resolve the ecological woes of farmers. While the main reason for the crop stubble burning is the very small window of 20 days between harvesting of paddy and sowing of wheat, experts said there are other problems related to wheatpaddy combination, including extreme water stress and reliance on pesticides.
“We have to understand that the rice-wheat system has problems,” said G V Ramajaneyulu, executive director, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture. “Instead we should opt for wheat-pulses or rice-legumes or vegetable-legumes combinations. Crop stubble burning is just a symptom of this problem and even this is being addressed only because of pollution in Delhi. But the intensive ground water depletion and water contamination due to high chemical usage in therice-wheat system is not being addressed.”