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Delhi smog 2020: Capital again at risk as stubble burning set to rise in Punjab

For the past few winters, the National Capital – Delhi – has been in headlines for its toxic air quality due to smog. Multiple organizations have declared Delhi as unfit to live in the winters and all this is because of the pollution and smog that enters Delhi from the neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana after burning of stubble.

This year also there will be no difference in the air of Delhi and making its place in the news again. In the neighboring state of Punjab, the paddy fields are ready to set on fire thus, making Delhi’s air unfit for the breathing.

This matter of air pollution had become an issue of argument between the Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal and the Chief Minister of Punjab Captain Amarinder Singh as both of them even had a spat over Twitter. This year the paddy has been cultivated in more than 30 lakh hectares of land in Punjab. Last year it was 29 lakh hectares. According to the government of Punjab, around fifteen million tons of paddy straw will be burnt in the state which will have a severe effect on Delhi causing smog and air pollution. 

Till 2008, the farmers in Punjab could sow paddy anytime. And after the crops are cultivated the farmers used to dig holes in their fields to dump the remaining straw converting them into manure for the next crop. At that time, the labor was also cheap in Punjab and they helped in the removal of straws. As the paddy crop requires a lot of water, Punjab government in order to conserve groundwater issued a notification under the Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act 2009. According to the Act, the paddy crop could not be sowed before June 10. In 2014, the date was fixed to June 15, and this year the date was extended to June 20. 

The late sowing of paddy crops resulted in the late cultivation which made a little time for farmers to sow the next crop which is wheat. Sown in the month of June, the paddy crop is harvested in mid-October on the other hand the time period of wheat sowing starts from October end to November start. In order to quickly clear the fields, the farmers opted for a new idea of burning the remaining straw. This problem of pollution has increased over the years. 

Earlier the Punjab Energy Development Authority decided to set-up projects to produce electricity from the stubble burning.  But the idea never took-off as it is impossible for the Punjab government to set-up power-house that could consume fifteen million tonnes of paddy straw.

Even after the commissioning of these projects, Punjab will be able to utilize 1.5 million tonnes of paddy which is only seven percent of the total. The problem of stubble burning has become a reason for headaches for Punjab government.

State government of Punjab has now shifted the attention from stubble burning to the politics over the three agriculture bills. As a result, the government is not giving much attention to the problem. Government of Punjab has also failed to attract farmers to go for alternative crops. This failure has resulted in major parts of states being undertaken over the paddy cultivation.

The State government of Punjab provides free electricity to the farmers who grow paddy crops which results in the increase of cultivation of paddy crops. The cultivation of basmati rice has been reduced to eight percent in the states of Punjab and Haryana. No minimum support (MSP) price is also another reason why farmers avoid the cultivation of Basmati rice.

In recent months the Punjab Government has requested big businessmen and corporate firms to set up paddy stubble- based industries in Punjab. According to the government, this objective will have its roots only when youths, engineers, graduates in science, and technology will support the policy. The state government will also introduce entrepreneurship possibilities and will help these young people by sanctioning loans and providing them markets for their products. With many campaigns and media coverage in recent years, the farmers have realized that they can be hugely benefited if they would sell the paddy to the industries instead of burning them. 

Jagmohan Singh, General Secretary of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) said that the farmers will be forced to burn the paddy straws to clear the land for the wheat crops. He said that majority of farmers are poor and they are not in the situation to get machinery to remove the stubble even at subsidized rates. He further said that the whitefly has destroyed the cotton crops in the Malwa region of Punjab forcing the farmers to grow paddy crops.

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