‘Need viable alternatives to stubble burning’

Govt. must step up eff orts to help farmers move away from toxic practice: experts

August 05, 2021 01:00 am | Updated 06:30 pm IST - New Delhi

Stubble burning at a field near Kundli in Delhi.

Stubble burning at a field near Kundli in Delhi.

With the Lok Sabha passing a Bill to formalise the Commission for Air Quality Management for National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas on Wednesday, experts said the government has to now speed up implementation of alternatives to stubble burning.

The Centre, facing flak earlier this year from farmers protesting against the farm laws, had committed to removing a clause in the Air Commission Bill that would penalise farmers for burning stubble, an important contributor to noxious air quality. The current text of the Bill does away with this clause.

Anumita Roychowdhury, head of Clean Air Programme at the Centre for Science and Environment, said it is unfair to fine farmers without giving them viable alternatives.

Three solutions

“If just by penalising farmers, stubble burning could be stopped, we should have been able to end it by now. We have evidence that in areas where alternatives are implemented, fire incidents have come down,” she said,

The government should instead focus on alternative solutions to burning, she said.

“There are three main solutions to stubble burning: in-situ treatment of stubble, ex-situ treatment, and changing cropping pattern. The last one being the deeper and more fundamental solution. For in-situ management, 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. Similarly, in ex-situ management, some companies have started collecting stubble for their use, but we need more action on this front,” she said.

Ms. Roychowdhury said farmers, especially small and marginal farmers, need support for adoption of in-situ strategies, to mulch the straw into the soil and not burn it. “Penalty without access to solutions does not work.”

Polash Mukerjee, Lead for Air Pollution at the India Programme of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, said farmers burn stubble as other methods are expensive and they have less time before the next sowing season. “Imposing a fine is not going to work in our socio-economic conditions for curbing stubble burning. We need to focus on alternative solutions,” he said.

But he said that the current development is bad in terms of deterrence to burn stubble. “Already there is economic distress and now there is no deterrence, so the farm fires could go up during this year’s harvest season,” he said.

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