Farm Fire Men­ace

Pun­jab and Haryana gov­ern­ments must con­trol crop burn­ing as it’s against court rul­ing

The Day After - - CONTENT - By Asit MAnohAr

In a week or so paddy har­vest­ing will end in Pun­jab and Haryana and it will be time to get the fields ready for wheat plant­ing ahead of the win­ter sea­son. This is a very wor­ry­ing time for the larger neigh­bour­hood in­clud­ing Delhi, be­cause if farm­ers ready their fields by burn­ing stub­ble, the dark smoke clouds that rise as a re­sult travel far and wide, car­ry­ing in their wake se­vere air pol­lu­tion. Once again the En­vi­ron­ment Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Author­ity would di­rect both state gov­ern­ments to en­sure that there is no paddy stub­ble burn­ing. So, be­fore the smoke takes con­trol over the en­vi­ron­ment of Pun­jab, Haryana and Delhi, Chief Ministers Amarinder Singh, Arvind Ke­jri­wal and Manohar Lal Khat­tar must en­sure that this time their state ma­chin­ery ful­fils the EPCA di­rec­tive rather in­dulging in blame game pol­i­tics.

The Na­tional Green Tri­bunal (NGT) has been pass­ing or­ders to im­prove the air qual­ity in Delhi and NCR but straw burn­ing in Pun­jab and Haryana con­tin­ues un­abated. The tri­bunal even asked the union en­vi­ron­ment min­istry to sub­mit a re­port on the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the ex­ist­ing rules against straw burn­ing by May 25. “We make it clear that if min­utes of the meet­ing and the fi­nal doc­u­ment are not placed on record be­fore the tri­bunal, we will be com­pelled to im­pose very heavy costs on MoEF,” the bench said.

On the up­side there is ev­i­dence that both Haryana and Pun­jab gov­ern­ments are now do­ing more strin­gent mon­i­tor­ing but on the down­side this seems to be just driv­ing many farm­ers to burn the stub­ble covertly – or claim that their field fires are ac­ci­den­tal. This re­flects poorly on mea­sures to pro­vide farm­ers con­ve­nient and prof­itable al­ter­na­tives to burn­ing stub­ble. For ex­am­ple, sub­si­dies for agri equip­ment, such as happy seeder or ro­ta­vor that can sow seeds with­out the need to re­move the re­mains of stub­ble, haven’t reached most farm­ers – not to men­tion that these sub­si­dies are ac­com­pa­nied by cum­ber­some for­mal­i­ties.

The track record is even worse when it comes to com­mer­cial­iz­ing the stub­ble for an­i­mal feed, pack­ag­ing and pa­per in­dus­tries, power gen­er­a­tion, etc. Both Pun­jab and Haryana gov­ern­ments have been un­con­scionably lag­gard on this front. This must change. Re­mem­ber that burn­ing stub­ble doesn’t just cause res­pi­ra­tory dis­eases and worsen green­house gas emis­sions; it causes se­vere heat stress on the farm­land it­self, with one rough es­ti­mate be­ing that it de­stroys soil nu­tri­ents worth up to `2,000 crore ev­ery year.

But speak­ing of lag­gard­ness, when stub­ble is burnt and a soupy smog rises,

when city chemists run short of pro­tec­tive masks and a pub­lic health cri­sis grows, In­dia’s Na­tional Air Qual­ity In­dex can­not even pro­vide a re­li­able mea­sure­ment as it doesn’t have enough mon­i­tor­ing sta­tions and even the ex­ist­ing ones don’t mon­i­tor for all im­por­tant pol­lu­tants. It has one air qual­ity mon­i­tor for the en­tire me­trop­o­lis of Mum­bai as com­pared to Lon­don’s 100. From Cen­tre to states, so­lu­tions to curb crop burn­ing and clean the air are well known. What’s needed is the po­lit­i­cal re­solve to de­liver these so­lu­tions.

NO RE­SPECT FOR LAW

How­ever, at the same time one can ask when the court has or­dered both Pun­jab and Haryana gov­ern­ments to con­trol crop burn­ing in their re­spec­tive states, none of the state gov­ern­ments have taken any such strin­gent ac­tion against any farmer found in­dulge in such heinous crime against na­ture that causes air pol­lu­tion not just in their states but in sur­round­ing states in­clud­ing na­tional cap­i­tal. De­spite a ban and dire warn­ing from the Delhi High Court, the prac­tice has been on and nei­ther of the state gov­ern­ments has taken any ac­tion to stop it. On Oc­to­ber 6, 2017, the Delhi high court had warned the chief sec­re­taries of four states (Pun­jab, Haryana, UP and Ra­jasthan) that they would be held re­spon­si­ble if crop burn­ing per­sisted in their states this year. But, fire do broke out in Delhi and it lasted for more than a fort­night.

The Supreme Court-man­dated En­vi­ron­ment Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Author­ity (EPCA) had held a meet­ing on Oc­to­ber 7, 2016 with chief sec­re­taries and se­nior of­fi­cials of Pun­jab and Haryana gov­ern­ments on crop stub­ble burn­ing. Bhure Lal, head of EPCA, made a num­ber of di­rec­tions to en­sure “zero crop stub­ble burn­ing” this year.

“In or­der to en­sure ef­fec­tive en­force­ment of the law, the states shall start im­pos­ing penalty and pros­e­cu­tion for all in­ci­dents of stub­ble burn­ing through district level special teams,” a note by EPCA read. EPCA also di­rected state gov­ern­ments to launch aware­ness cam­paigns be­fore the paddy har­vest­ing pe­riod, and asked state re­mote sens­ing agen­cies to stay vig­i­lant.

There­fore, in short, burn­ing of paddy stub­bles to clear the fields for win­ter sow­ing is a ram­pant prac­tice in Pun­jab and Haryana, lead­ing to se­vere air pol­lu­tion across the re­gion. It’s one of the con­trib­u­tors to the sharp drop in air qual­ity usu­ally seen over Delhi-NCR in Oc­to­berNovem­ber.

FARMER’S AP­A­THY

It’s not that farmer’s don’t want to shun this prac­tice of crop burn­ing ahead of win­ter sow­ing. But, they don’t know any al­ter­na­tive which they can af­ford and the al­ter­na­tive they know is a costly af­fair.

“I would have to buy equip­ment worth Rs 5 lakh to get rid of the paddy stub­ble. That’s a lot of in­vest­ment. The gov­ern­ment has is­sued warn­ing but I fear a lot of farm­ers will con­tinue to burn their paddy residues,” said Ruby Singh Sandhu, a farmer who owns around 60 acres of land in Mallekan vil­lage in north­ern Haryana. So, if the gov­ern­ment wants to avoid parli burn­ing their state, farm­ers want some sub­sidy in the in­vest­ment which would amount to near `5 lakh. ‘Since, they are in­vest­ing in post health haz­ards caused by air pol­lu­tion due to parli burn­ing; they can do it ear­lier and help us help them to bail out from this cri­sis.”

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