Poor Air Warning
Delhi should help incentivise farmers to stop stubble burning
The annual air pollution disaster that assails the National Capital Region due to stubble burning in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana is almost upon us. In fact, there are ominous signs with a clear spike in agricultural fires in Punjab. From September 24-26, there were 107 fires in the state compared to just 11 fires during the same period last year. If the trend continues, Delhi could again become a veritable gas chamber around Diwali on October 27.
Although the Delhi government has shown it is alert to the problem a permanent solution to stubble burning remains elusive. At the root of the problem is economics. Burning is the cheapest and quickest option available to farmers to prepare their land for the next sowing season. Alternatives, available in the form of machines that cut and press crop stubble thereby eliminating the need for burning, still aren’t cost effective and farmers remain resistant. Consider how Punjab’s agriculture department has asked deputy commissioners to impound combine harvesters without the super straw management systems (SMS) machines. The latter are add-ons that chop paddy straw into small pieces, paving the way for the use of happy seeder machines that directly sow wheat crop without having to clear the field through burning.
However, despite Punjab government offering 50% subsidy on the SMS machines, many farmers remain reluctant because attaching the system to combine harvesters increases fuel consumption by 15%. Instead, farmers are demanding a bonus of Rs 200 per quintal on paddy or compensation of Rs 6,000 per acre to help them switch to alternatives. In such a scenario, Delhi government should offer its own funds to Punjab and Haryana to incentivise their farmers to make the switch. Only a cooperative approach can provide a solution to the seasonal air apocalypse.