With winter approaching and instances of stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana rising, the Union Environment Ministry announced a ₹50 crore scheme on Thursday to incentivise industrialists and entrepreneurs to set up paddy straw pelletisation and torrefaction plants.
Paddy straw made into pellets or torrefied can be mixed along with coal in thermal power plants. This saves coal as well as reduces carbon emissions that would otherwise have been emitted were the straw burnt in the fields, as is the regular practice of most farmers in Punjab and Haryana.
New units set up after Thursday would be eligible for government funding in the form of capital to set up such plants. The estimated cost of setting up a regular pelletisation plant, which can process a tonne per hour, is ₹35 lakh. Under the scheme, the Centre will fund such plants to a maximum of ₹70 lakh subject to capacity.
Similarly, the cost of establishing a torrefaction plant is ₹70 lakh and under the scheme, is eligible for a maximum funding of ₹1.4 crore. Torrefaction is costlier but can deliver a product whose energy content is much higher and theoretically substitute for more coal in a power plant.
The Centre has underlined that this would be a “one-time only” scheme and regular pellet plants would be eligible for ₹40 crore of the overall pie.
Every year, about 27 million tonne of paddy straw is generated in Punjab and Haryana. The problem is that about 75% or 20 million tonne is from non-basmati rice, which cannot be fed to cattle as fodder because of its high silica content. “About 11 million tonne can be managed in the field and the rest is usually burnt which adds to the air pollution crisis in Delhi,” said MM Kutty, Chairman, Commission Air Quality Management (CAQM), at an event here to announce the scheme.
Through the years the government has attempted to dissuade farmers from burning straw through penalising them as well as incentivising them, such as giving them alternatives to burning the straw. It has also encouraged using bio-decomposer, a chemical that decomposes the straw into mulch.
“The Environment Ministry has so far been seen as an organisation that stops everyone. But I’d like to congratulate the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for devising this scheme that will help convert waste to wealth and provide entrepreneurship opportunities to our rural youth in Punjab and Haryana,” said Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav.
There were 867 instances of stubble burning in Punjab till October 12 this year. This is close to the 925 reported same time last year but about a fourth of the 3,325 incidents reported in 2020, according to data from the Consortium for Research on Agroecosystem Monitoring and Modelling from Space (CREAMS) Laboratory, Indian Agricultural Research Institute.