Dealing with stubble burning


The air quality index (AQI) on October 13 was 171. It falls under the ‘moderate’ category of 101-200 AQI. The index has jumped from the ‘satisfactory’ since the last week of September and crossed three digits to 125 on October 7. Between now and the end of November every year, Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh record a high number of stubble burnings. It is the second week of October and the annual problem of stubble burning has resurfaced around Delhi. The Central Pollution Control Board says the air quality in Delhi has already reduced over the last week.
This year, however, the burning is delayed; NASA images show a lesser number of fires in Punjab and Haryana. In Ghaziabad and Gautam Budh Nagar of UP, however, instances of stubble burning are increasing. The response of the UP administration is simply to lodge an FIR against persons involved in the crop residue burning and impose fines ranging from ]Rs 2,500 to Rs 15,000. That hardly deters the farmers who feel their losses will be more if they don’t burn the stubble and get the field ready for the next crop in the small window available for doing so. The solution lies not in punitive measures and ordinances and laws but in innovation. Certain steps that Delhi, Punjab and Haryana are taking this year may show the way.
There is a 55-day window to clear it for the winter wheat crop. The straw cannot be used as fodder and burning it is the easiest and cheapest method. However, that badly pollutes the air, in and around Delhi. Governments have introduced effective machines to remove the stubble but the farmers find them expensive. Innovation has now come into the picture. The Delhi Government has started using the Pusa Decomposer this month. Developed by the Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI), it is a low-cost microbial bio-enzyme that decomposes crop residues, including stubble. Thousands of farmers in Punjab and Haryana have registered with a firm to use the decomposer. Farmers are being persuaded to diversify into Basmati paddy that can be used as fodder. Scientists are exploring microbial solutions that can dissolve the stubble and convert it into soil nutrients. Trials are underway to generate bio-CNG and bioethanol from the stubble. Paper and sugar mills are being incentivised to install boilers that use stubble as fuel.

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