Stubble Burning & PM 2.5

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    In Context

    • The average contribution of stubble burning to Delhi’s PM2.5 level in November was 14.6%, according to data from the government-run monitoring agency SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research).
      • PM 2.5 refers to the ambient airborne particles of size 2.5 micrometres that are emitted from various sources and are linked to negative health effects such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness and premature mortality.

     Image Courtsey: TH

    Major Points 

    • The contribution of stubble burning in neighbouring States to the daily levels of PM2.5 – a chief pollutant – in Delhi was as high as 48% on November 7 and averaged 33.5% during the week after Deepavali (November 5-11). 
      • This is the same period when air pollution spiked in the Capital, National Capital Region and several other north Indian States.
    • The highest contribution of stubble burning to PM2.5 in Delhi for a day was 58% in 2018, 43% in 2019, and 46% in 2020, said Gufran Beig, founder project director of SAFAR.

    What is Stubble Burning?

    • Stubble burning is the practice of intentionally setting fire to the straw stubble that remains after grains, such as rice and wheat, have been harvested. 
    • Origin: The origin of stubble burning can be traced to the advent of the Green Revolution and mechanised harvesting, which utilised the combined harvesting technique. 
      • The Green Revolution increased greatly rice and wheat production, which simultaneously increased stubble post-harvest.
    • The technique was widespread until the 1990s when governments increasingly restricted its use.
    • Stubble burning in northern India has long been a major cause of air pollution, but efforts to stop it fail every year.
    • Every year, when winter sets in, Delhi’s air pollution peaks with the air quality index (AQI) often plunging to the ‘severe’ and ‘hazardous’ categories. 
    • A recent study cited a direct link between 30 per cent of the total Covid deaths in the world and air pollution.

    Impact of Stubble Burning

    • Stubble burning in northern India has long been a major cause of air pollution.
      • It releases harmful gases including nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere. 
      • In recent years, this practice has created vast smoke blankets across the Indo-Gangetic Plain and numerous neighbouring States, including Delhi
    • It directly contributes to environmental pollution, and are also responsible for the haze in Delhi and the melting of Himalayan glaciers. 
    • It’s more dangerous with Covid-19 ravaging the country as pollution makes people more vulnerable to infection and slows their recovery.
    • During the crop residue burning period, a two to three-fold increase was noted in most of the respiratory symptoms including wheezing, breathlessness on exertion, cough in the morning, cough at night, skin rashes, runny nose or itchiness of eyes etc
    • Burning husk on the ground destroys the nutrients in the soil, making it less fertile.
      • The heat generated by stubble burning penetrates into the soil, leading to the loss of moisture and useful microbes.

    Alternatives to Stubble Burning

    • Turbo Happy Seeder (THS) machine
      • One such method is using a Turbo Happy Seeder (THS) machine, which can uproot the stubble and also sow seeds in the area cleared.
        •  The stubble can then be used as mulch for the field.
    • Pusa bio-decomposer: It is developed by the scientists at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, which turns crop residue into manure in 15-20 days by accelerating the decomposition process.
      • The decomposers are in the form of capsules made by extracting fungi strains that help the paddy straw to decompose at a much faster rate than usual. 
      • The fungi help to produce the essential enzymes for the degradation process.
    • In-situ treatment of stubble: 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.
    • Ex-situ treatment: Under this, some companies have started collecting stubble for their use, but we need more action on this front.
    • Changing cropping pattern: It is the deeper and more fundamental solution.
    • Farmers can also manage crop residues effectively by employing agricultural machines like:
      • Zero till seed drill (used for land preparations directly sowing of seeds in the previous crop stubble)
      • Baler (used for collection of straw and making bales of the paddy stubble)
      • Paddy Straw Chopper (cutting of paddy stubble for easily mixing with the soil)
      • Reaper Binder (used for harvesting paddy stubble and making into bundles)
    • More intiatives :
      • National Clean Air Programme (NCAP)
        • It was launched in 2019)now renamed National Clear Air Mission which aims to reduce the particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) concentrations in the air by 20–30% by 2024.
    • Commission for Air Quality Management
      • The Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and adjoining areas, 2020 — with a provision for a fine of Rs 1 crore and/or jail for 5 years for those violating air pollution norms.
    • Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP): The plan was formulated after several meetings that the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) held with state government representatives and experts. 
      • It was approved by the Supreme Court in 2016, 
      • The result was a plan that institutionalised measures to be taken when air quality deteriorates.
      • It works only as an emergency measure. The plan is incremental in nature — therefore, when the air quality moves from ‘Poor’ to ‘Very Poor’, the measures listed under both sections have to be followed.

    Way Forward

    • Small and marginal farmers need support for the adoption of in-situ strategies, to mulch the straw into the soil and not burn it.
    • Imposing a fine is not going to work in our socio-economic conditions for curbing stubble burning. We need to focus on alternative solutions.
    • Although the government is distributing but everyone is not getting the machines for in-situ management. The government should ensure their availability to everyone.
    •  There are many ways to curb stubble burning. The crop diversification offers a sustainable means to provide Indians with both cleaner air and healthier diets.
    • Subsidise crops other than paddy, the source of most stubble burning.
      •  Policy and money should incentivise farmers in the region to plant more fruits and vegetables. India needs more vitamins and protein rather than wheat and rice.” This will create more greenery and since vegetable and fruit crops don’t leave stubble, it’ll bring down the number of open fires.

    System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research

    • Under the planning scheme “Metropolitan Advisories for Cities for Sports, Tourism (Metropolitan Air Quality and Weather Services), Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), Govt. of India, has introduced a major national initiative, “System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research” known as “SAFAR” for greater metropolitan cities of India to provide location-specific information on air quality in near real-time and its forecast 1-3 days in advance for the first time in India. 
    • SAFAR envisages a research-based management system where strategies of air pollution mitigation go hand in hand with the nation’s economic development to target a win-win scenario.

    Source: TH