The Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) has given a cheery report to the Supreme Court of targets for a substantial reduction in incidents of paddy stubble burning for Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in 2023 even as the national capital is smothered in acrid vapour.
As a result of various review meetings held by the Commission, the State Action Plans for Punjab for the year is “zero stubble burning” in six districts of Hoshiarpur, Malerkotla, Pathankot, Rup Nagar, SAS Nagar and SBS Nagar. The State is targeting a 50% reduction in the remaining 17 districts. The total fire counts as of October is 24,202. Last year saw 49,922 fires in the State. In neighbouring Haryana and Uttar Pradesh (National Capital Region), the States had promised “near elimination of paddy stubble burning” compared to 3,661 and 198 fire counts in 2022.
In the report filed through Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, the CAQM maintained that the “overall air quality in Delhi-NCR has witnessed an improving trend since the inception of the Commission”.
“The key parameters for daily average air quality for Delhi for the period between January and September 2023 have been the best in 2023 as compared to the corresponding periods, from 2018 to 2022 (barring the periods of very low anthropogenic, industrial and commercial activities during the COVID-affected year 2020, owing to complete lockdowns),” the report said.
Tackling crop residue
The report also said the Centre has already disbursed ₹3,333.17 crore under the Crop Residue Management (CRM) scheme to tackle crop stubble.
Available data indicates that around 1.17 lakh CRM machines are available in Punjab, 80,071 in Haryana and 7,986 in NCR areas of Uttar Pradesh. This is more than the 90,422, 72,777 and 8,482 machines available in 2022.
However, the early appearance and intensity of the smog cover belie figures in the report, which show that more CRM machines are available this year than the last. Additionally, about 23,000 machines in Punjab, 7,572 in Haryana and 595 in NCR areas of Uttar Pradesh were in the process of being procured during 2023.
Under the CRM scheme, 50% financial assistance is given to farmers and 80% aid for cooperative societies, farmer producer organisations (FPOs) and panchayats for procuring CRM machinery to rent to needy farmers.
‘Dip in stubble burning’
In fact, the report points out that frequent reviews and daily monitoring of fire counts, as per a standard protocol developed by the ISRO for the CAQM, saw a serious dip in paddy stubble burning between September 15 and October 24 during 2022 and 2023.
The cumulative fire counts for this period show an approximate 58.9% and 40.2% reduction in Punjab and Haryana, respectively this year compared to 2022.
The report said the CAQM has advised State governments to establish an ecosystem and robust supply chain mechanism to boost ex-situ utilisation of paddy straw in boilers and furnaces of industrial units.
Directions were issued to all the 11 thermal power plants in NCR and adjoining areas within 300 km of Delhi for “ex-situ paddy straw management” through co-firing of biomass pellets/torrefied pellets (with focus on paddy straw) in coal-based thermal power plants. “Such co-firing has started in the power plants, though in much smaller quantities as against the respective targets and the progress on this front is being critically monitored and reviewed monthly in active coordination with the Ministry of Power, the National Thermal Power Corporation and the other power plant operators. The progress made by the identified thermal power plants and issues related to increased utilisation of bio-mass pellets was also reviewed periodically by the commission during various meetings with the power plant operators in association with the Ministry of Power,” the report noted.
Other than the ex-situ measures for utilisation of paddy stubble, a 2G bio-ethanol plant in Panipat, Haryana, is already commissioned/operational. Another upcoming 2G bio-ethanol plant in Bhatinda, Punjab, which is expected to be commissioned by January 2024, has started sourcing paddy straw in the current harvesting season itself. These plants are expected to utilise around two lakh tonne of paddy straw each annually, when running to their full capacities, the CAQM informed the court.