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India Leads the World in Crop‑Burning Emissions: Report

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Oct 25, 2021

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Image Credit: Greater Kashmir

A new report has found that India holds the top spot globally for crop-burning emissions. We are responsible for 13% of the total global emissions from crop burning between 2015-2020.

With winter just around the corner, this report is an alarming reminder of the horrors to expect in the national capital and its adjoining areas soon.

Crop burning, or stubble burning, involves setting fire to fields to remove crop residue from previous harvests. It is an affordable method to remove weeds and pests too. But, unfortunately, it also leads to severe air pollution. As winter approaches, farmers in the country’s northwestern states start burning leftover paddy stubble to get their fields ready in time to plant wheat crops. Researchers estimate that each year, farmers burn about 23 million tonnes of paddy stubble in India.

According to reports, the country may witness more crop burning incidents this year. India Today reported earlier this month that the weather has delayed paddy harvesting by a week in Punjab and Haryana — leaving farmers with lesser time to prepare their field for wheat crops.


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A study from June this year found that curbing stubble burning could reduce high blood pressure in residents of the regions where it’s practiced. “India thus needs effective policies regarding regulation and management of biomass burning. The policy instruments should address the knowledge barrier in the adoption of new clean technologies for managing crop residue and they should provide greater financial support for buying new machinery,” said researchers of the study.

Further, it was reported in March that a parliamentary panel had recommended the Ministry of Science and Technology, Environment, Forests, and Climate to come up with ‘innovative’ plans to mitigate air pollution. Among them, lay a suggestion to establish bio-degraders to address the annual problem of stubble burning.

To stop stubble burning, the government has tried banning the practice, and even penalizing farmers — by fining, and even imprisoning, them.

However, many experts argue that punishment isn’t a solution to the problem. “Imposing a fine is not going to work in our socio-economic conditions for curbing stubble burning. We need to focus on alternative solutions,” Polash Mukerjee, Lead for Air Pollution at the India Programme of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, told The Hindu in August, explaining that crop burning is often the only economical avenue for farmers so they can get ready for the next sowing season on time.


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Agreeing with Mukerjee, Anumita Roychowdhury, head of Clean Air Programme at the Centre for Science and Environment, says: “Penalty without access to solutions does not work.” She added, however, that “the government is currently giving equipment to farmers to mix the stubble back into the soil so that they do not have to burn it, but everyone is not getting these machines… The government should ensure their availability to everyone.”

In the meantime, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research has developed a proprietary microbial solution called “Pusa” to decompose crop residue and turn it into manure — in just about 25 days.

The researchers of the June study also advocated for more sustainable farming practices and providing financial incentives to farmers if they avoid crop burning. “In addition to this farmers should be encouraged to sell their residue for alternative purposes like the use of rice pellets for power generation, use of stubble as fodder for cattle, etc.,” they add.

Will any of these suggestions be implemented before winter is upon us this year? Only time can tell.

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Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, and a painter by shaukh. She has her own podcast called #DateNightsWithD on Spotify. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.

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