Punjab is usually blamed for burning paddy stubble; here is the back story to that

Paddy farming in Punjab was started to meet the food grain requirements of the country for which the state has been forced to pay a huge price

By Gian Singh
Published: Monday 03 October 2022
Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock Photo: iStock

Paddy harvesting will begin in many parts of Punjab around October 15, 2022 and will be completed in most of the state by the end of the month. The burning of paddy stubble after harvesting the crop in Punjab and the resultant air pollution has been making headlines in the media for quite some time now.

Smoke, unburnt smoke particles and carbon dioxide gas make up most of this air pollution. The pollution caused by the burning of stubble has been creating many problems for humans and non-humans alike in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi.

Political parties and farmer organisations keep giving statements about who should take responsibility for this problem and its solution. The National Green Tribunal is also giving instructions in this regard.

It is necessary to look at the historical aspect of paddy farming in Punjab to understand the causes of this problem and suggest solutions.

Crop combinations were suitable for all types of life before the introduction of paddy in the state on a large scale. This is because these combinations were varied and adaptable to Punjab’s agro-climatic conditions.

The Planning Commission was formed after Indian independence in 1950 and from 1951, the First Five Year Plan was introduced. Food grains had been a problem since the country’s independence.

Hence, in the First Five Year Plan (1951-56), the main priority was given to the development of the agricultural sector. As a result, this problem could be controlled to a large extent.

During the Second Five Year Plan (1956-61), the main priority was given to the development of the industrial sector. Consequently, the food grains problem in the country resurfaced.

The drought during 1964-66 made the shortage of food grains very serious. The central government had imported food grains in huge quantities under the PL 480 scheme from the United States, which cost India a lot.

The central government then decided to introduce the ‘New Agriculture Technology’ in India to solve the problem of food grain scarcity. This technology was a package of high-yielding variety seeds, assured irrigation, chemical fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, machinery and modern methods of farming.

The central government decided to introduce this technology on priority in Punjab after discussions at various levels regarding its implementation.

This decision was made taking into consideration the farmers, agricultural labourers, rural artisans and rich natural resources of Punjab. The state’s fertile soil, quality and level of groundwater and agro-climatic conditions were much better than those of other states.

In Punjab, the ‘New Agriculture Technology’ kicked off with the cultivation of wheat. Due to the excellent contribution of wheat to the Central Pool of Food Grains, the central government imposed the paddy crop on Punjab from 1973 through the Minimum Support Prices policy.

The favourable minimum support price and production and procurement certainties were the main reasons for adopting paddy farming in Punjab. Before the introduction of this technology, basmati paddy was being planted in the Shiwalik foothills of the state. From 1973, paddy farming began in almost all the areas of Punjab where maize and cotton were the main crops.

Bearing the cross?

The plantation of paddy, along with the sowing of wheat in Punjab has filled the Central Pool of Food Grains. But it has created many serious problems for Punjab, which will get even more serious in the future.

Before the large-scale plantation of paddy in Punjab, the groundwater level in the state was very good. Today, in more than three-fourths of Punjab’s community development blocks, the groundwater level has gone down to a dangerous level.

Researchers Surender Singh and Harvinder Singh conducted a research study Ground Water Development in Punjab.

The study showed that the groundwater level had dropped to dangerous levels in those community development blocks of the state where wheat-paddy farming dominate the cropping pattern.

The pond irrigation system is mostly used for paddy farming in Punjab. During 1960-61, the number of tubewells in Punjab was 7,445. This is around 1.5 million today. Monoblock motors stopped working due to the lowering of the groundwater table, which forced the farmers to get submersible motors.

The cost of these motors is high and the bores required for them have to be deepened again and again. Such a phenomenon is becoming a reason for further increasing the debt faced by farmers.

The Punjab government is giving free electricity to the farmers for irrigation, the economic burden of which is falling on the state treasury.

Farmers are forced to use their own or rented generators when their irrigation needs are not met with the free electricity provided by the Punjab government. This is one of the reasons for the increase in their production cost.

Maize and cotton were sown during the kharif season in Punjab before the large-scale plantation of paddy in the state. These crops provided employment to farmers, agricultural labourers and rural artisans.

This employment has reduced significantly with the introduction of paddy. This change in the cropping pattern is one of the reasons responsible for increasing debt on small farmers, agricultural labourers and rural artisans.

Paddy farming in Punjab was started to meet the food grain requirements of the country for which Punjab has been forced to pay a huge price. Farmers in Punjab are forced to set fire to the paddy stubble and they are the first to bear the brunt of the resulting pollution and many other aspects.

There can be no doubt about that this type of pollution is very harmful to all living beings. Methane is produced mainly due to the prevalence of pond irrigation for the paddy crop in Punjab. Burning of paddy stubble releases carbon dioxide gas, smoke and unburnt smoke particles into the air and pollutes the environment.

There are short- and long-term possible solutions to problems arising from paddy stubble burning in Punjab. As a short-term solution, the central government should give adequate compensation to the farmers of Punjab for disposing paddy stubble. The Punjab government should come forward to contribute its due in this regard.

Doing so will bring some relief to the farmers. It is also somewhat natural that there will be some increase in the days of employment of the agricultural labourers. The central and state governments should provide financial assistance to the industrial units which use paddy stubble as fuel.

The central and state governments should come forward on research projects to generate electricity from paddy stubble. However, it is not possible to solve all the problems related to paddy crop through short-term solutions.

This problem can be solved by long-term measures. The paddy crop is suitable for areas that have plenty of water for irrigation. Planting only paddy throughout the year in such areas will ensure its stubble is automatically added to the soil, which will also increase the fertility of that soil.

Minimum Support Prices of competing crops to paddy should be given to the farmers of Punjab according to the agro-climatic conditions of the kharif season. Farmers will then get rid of the paddy crop. While doing this, it is very important to keep in mind that the income of the farmers does not fall.

Gian Singh is former professor, Department of Economics, Punjabi University, Patiala

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.