Farmers burn stubble at night to evade detection

By TheHindu on 09 Nov 2016

Cheaper combine harvesters have replaced labour but leave behind stubble

Bali Ram, a 39-year-old farmer from Kaimla village in Karnal, around 120 km from Delhi, did not burn the paddy stubble in his fields this year for fear of being penalised. Despite the extra cost, he decided to plough his land with a tractor to get rid of the plant stalks.

However, he conceded that most of the villagers in the area still preferred to burn the crop waste. “Burning the stubble is the most convenient, cheap and pragmatic solution to get rid of it. Most farmers prefer to cut their crops using combine harvesters which do not cut crops close to the ground and leave the stalk, usually up to two feet high, standing. Unlike the wheat stalk, which is used to make cattle fodder, the paddy stalk is of inferior quality and is of practically no use. So, the farmers cut it and set it afire,” said Mr. Ram, who owns eight acres of land.

Expensive labour

He added that the non-availability of labour over the past few years had compounded the problem further forcing the farmers to use combine harvesters, which are cheaper and faster. While the combine harvesters cost Rs.1,200-1,300 per acre, the labourers, which cut the crop close to the ground, charge around Rs.10,000 for an acre. Moreover, while the combines take only a few hours, labourers take several days. “Even if the farmers get the stalk cut, it is a futile exercise as it is of no use,” he stressed.

The four districts of Kaithal, Fatehabad, Karnal and Kurukshetra account for almost 80 per cent of the stubble burning in Haryana. Paddy is grown in 11 districts of Haryana.

Though efforts to prevent stubble burning has increased over the past few years because of rising pollution levels in Delhi and its neighbouring areas, Sudip Gahlawat, a farmer from Farmana in Sonipat, said it was impossible for the administration to keep a check on it.

“The farmers usually set it afire at night. Few cases get reported, but most go unnoticed,” he said. He suggested that the best solution would be to find some use for the stalk. “In the wake of increased vigilance, some people give it to gaushalas (cow shelters). But the people do not accept it even for free,” asserted Mr. Gahlawat.

Sixty-year-old Om Prakash, a farmer from Nilauthi in Jhajjar, said lack of awareness among farmers was also to blame. Mr. Prakash, who owns over 10 acres of land, argued that burning stubble didn’t just cause pollution, but also adversely affected the fertility of the land by destroying friendly micro-organisms. “It is myth that the field needs to be cleared of stubble to prepare the land for the next crop. The stubble decomposes and acts as compost. It can be put to other uses such as packaging of vegetables and fruits and is in demand at mandis ,” he said.

Haryana Agriculture University (Hisar), Registrar, Dr. Mohinder Singh Dhaiya told The Hindu over phone that the equipment such as Rotavator and Happy Seeder were available to tackle the problem of stubble burning, but the farmers were not very enthusiastic about them because of the high costs involved. “The Rotavator helps cut the stubble and mixes it with the soil, but it costs Rs.800-900 per acre. If the government can offer some subsidy on it in view of the problem of environmental pollution, it can be an easy solution. Also, Happy Seeder sows wheat among the standing stubble and there is no impact on the production.”

Looking for possible solutions to stubble burning, the Haryana Government recently decided to launch a pilot project for a paddy straw-based biomass power project.

Haryana Space Applications Centre, Chief Scientist, Dr. R.S. Hooda said that around 300-400 active fire points are noticed via satellites everyday during the peak harvesting period across the State starting in the first week of October.