How Haryana cut stubble burning this season

Distributing crop residue disposal machines, spreading awareness among farmers and increased sowing of Basmati rice brought about the good results

By Shagun
Published: Tuesday 12 November 2019
Stubble being burnt in a field in Kurukshetra, Haryana in late September. Photo: @Daksh280 / Twitter

Delhi’s fight against air pollution has more failures than success. As the Supreme Court lashed out at Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh on November 6, 2019, for not taking enough measures to curb crop residue burning in their farms, it also asked these states to reward farmers who refrained from doing so with Rs 100 per quintal of crop.

The states reduced crop residue burning by 12.01 per cent from last year, shows Indian Council of Agricultural Research data. And the reduction is significant in Haryana.

The state, along with Punjab, recorded 29,780 cases of farm fires between October 1 and November 3, this year. Of this, Haryana’s contribution was only 4,414.

In fact, it has managed to bring down its last year’s fire count by 11.7 per cent as against Punjab’s 8.7 per cent. These figures, produced by the states in the apex court, are quite similar to Nasa’s fire maps which show that crop residue burning in Haryana between October 23 and 30 this year is substantially less than Punjab.

In an emergency Supreme Court hearing on Delhi’s air pollution on November 4, Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority informed that while Haryana has largely controlled burning, enforcement in Punjab is poor.

So what is Haryana doing right? The state started early, says S Narayanan, member secretary, Haryana Pollution Control Board.

It identified villages where farm fires were rampant last year and just as the kharif season began in June, it started distributing machines that can eliminate crop residue burning. “We did quite well on the technological front and supplied machines like Super sms, Rotavator, Happy Seeder and Zero Till Seed Drill,” he says.

The state aimed at distributing 7,492 machines to individual farmers and managed to give 5,170. It set a target of giving 8,626 machines through its Custom Hiring Centres (CHCs). These are machine banks that give expensive machines to poor farmers on rent. CHCs distributed 8,281 machines.

The district authorities were asked to spread awareness among farmers, through gram sabhas and panchayats, about the alternatives to crop residue burning. In June itself, teams were deployed to keep a vigil. “Understanding crop residue burning as a behavioural problem, we shamed those lighting up their farms and praised those who did not,” says Narayanan.

Govind Singh of Amritpur Khurd village in Haryana’s Karnal district says officials from the agriculture department would repeatedly visit him to explain how use of Happy Seeder increases produce. “So I started using it,” he says. Kashmir Bhatia started using Super sms last year. But this farmer in Karnal’s Taraori village used it only on 0.8 ha of his 3.2 ha field. He burnt the rest.

“Any new technology takes time to be adopted,” says Kailash Chand Kalwania of the non-profit CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre). Last year, many farmers were given such machines on subsidy. They used it in small patches.

This year, they saw that the overall cost was less and the yield was high. Now many farmers want to shift to these machines, says Kalwania. His non-profit works in 86 villages of Karnal, Kurukshetra and Ambala on stubble management.

Bhatia, however, finds the cost of hiring the machine steep. He rented a combine harvester with an attached Super sms. It cost him Rs 2,000 per acre (0.4 ha). “I don’t have the money to use it on my entire field,” he says.

This is the primary roadblock in substituting crop residue burning with machines. Marginal and small farmers cannot afford them. “District authorities should deposit money in farmers’ bank accounts for the purpose,” says Vikas Chaudhary, director of Progrowers Producers Company Limited which acts as a CHC in Taraori.

He points out that increased sowing of Basmati rice was another reason for fewer crop residue burning cases this year. The straws of this rice can be used as fodder, and are, therefore, not burnt down. “Last year, farmers made a slight profit from it so they grew more of the crop this time,” he says.

“For now, we are just keeping a tight vigil. There are still a few days left for stubble burning. If we can keep the momentum till November 25, we will achieve a good result,” says Narayanan.

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