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Air pollution due to crop burning set to fall this year
Air pollution due to crop burning in north India is set to fall sharply this year because of extensive use of technology to chop off farm stubble and mix it with the soil to make it more nutrient-rich, the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) said. The practice of stubble burning around October raises the concentration of particulate matter (PM) in the air to 1,000 micrograms per cubic metre, far outstripping the safety limit of 50 micrograms. This triggers a medical emergency in which people are advised to stay indoors and use masks outdoors. “This year Haryana is likely to be free from stubble burning. But Punjab and Uttar Pradesh will not be completely free. There has been vast improvement after our intervention,” said Trilochan Mohapatra, director general of ICAR, which has been working with farmers, state governments and public institutions. Around 23 million tonnes of residue is burnt in paddy fields every October-November to clear the field for conventional wheat sowing because of the narrow window between paddy harvesting and wheat sowing. If monsoon arrives late, this window narrows further, prompting farmers to set the residue on fire to clear the field for winter crops. Mohapatra said a high-level task force set up by the Prime Minister last year has been monitoring the air quality index on a monthly basis. “Chief secretaries and secretaries of concerned departments along with ICAR officials review the situation every month and take corrective action. The pollution index will improve substantially this time,” he said. Central Scheme to Support Farmers The Centre had in 2018 launched a Rs 1,150-crore scheme to support farmers for machinery, capacity development, knowledge sharing and awareness creation. “The Centre is giving up to 8% subsidy on purchase of machines like Super SMS, Happy Seeder, Paddy Straw Chopper and zero till drill used for residue management. Those farmers who don’t want to buy these machines can easily get them on rent from Custom Hiring Centres (CHCs) in their neighbourbood,” he said. A research paper titled “Fields on fire: Alternatives to crop residue burning in India”, published in the Science magazine, said the Happy Seeder technology to manage rice residue can generate Rs 6,000-11,500 more profit per hectare for the average farmer. Crop burning method to remove stubble has negative implications for the food system. The nutrients present in the stubble are wasted in burning and farmers have to spend on chemical fertilisers to maintain soil quality. Burning leads to the ground temperature rising and the soil drying up, necessitating additional water for irrigation. Livestock, too, is impacted by crop burning. It has been found that milk production falls up to 50% during the two months.