Chandigarh, Oct 3 (IANS) With the onset of paddy harvest and crop residue burning season in Punjab and Haryana, the debate on air pollution is again strife in the northwestern region, comprising the national capital.
However, what is different this winter and giving hope to affected citizens across the region is that instead of the annual inter-state political blame game, the Aam Aadmi Party-led governments, in the saddle in both Punjab and Delhi, can offer a coordinated solution to effectively tackle this problem, said climate and farm experts.
At a workshop organised in Chandigarh by Delhi-based Climate Trends on Monday, experts from Panjab University and PGIMER Chandigarh and representatives from respective pollution control boards and farmers discussed the ground solutions.
Krunesh Garg, Member Secretary, Punjab Pollution Control Board, said: “Crop diversification is not the long-term solution, because it does not mean that biomass will not be produced by other crops.
“It’ll just be another kind of biomass waste, like from cotton and mustard coming from Rajasthan to Punjab. The issue with respect to the burning of this waste will always remain. So we need to find solutions, both in situ and ex-situ. A combination of these can only be effective.”
“It’s not that the problem is not being addressed, we are mapping it down to the block and village level, but it’ll take 4-5 years for proper problem resolution,” he added.
Explaining that counting the number of farm fires is an inaccurate measure of understanding stubble burning, he said the acreage of land being put on fire is the parameter to be measured.
During the kharif season of 2022, paddy has been grown in approximately 31.13 lakh hectares, an increase from 29.61 lakh hectares in 2021, resulting in 19.76 million ton paddy straw generation this year, vs 18.74 mn ton last year.
Adarsh Pal Vig, Chairman, Punjab Pollution Control Board, said: “There was a time when it was recommended to burn biomass waste. As we have mechanised more in the last few decades, the problem has increased.
“The solutions will eventually have to be adopted by farmers because it is a social and a psychological problem where behaviour and attitude of farmers also needs to be addressed. We must highlight the stories of those farmers who have succeeded in not burning stubble and make sure they interface with other farmers and encourage and motivate them.”
He noted that ambient air pollution is normally considered a problem only in cities even though the burning is being done in villages, as the National Clean Air Programme and the Air Quality Index are all focussed on cities.
“Urbanisation and the exploding density of population in cities are beyond carrying capacity and causing a problem. Due to other contributing factors, big cities like Delhi are already sitting on a tipping point and stubble becomes that straw every season.”
This year, the monsoon’s weak onset and delayed progress in northwestern India and deficit pre-monsoon rains depleted the soil moisture and delayed the sowing of the kharif crop.
This already meant a delayed harvest which was further postponed by widespread and prolonged spells of rain during the end of September in many parts of northwestern India. This delayed withdrawal of monsoon has resulted in agricultural fields being wet and waterlogged in places, leaving farmers with an even shorter window between harvest and sowing the next crop.
Nataraj Subash, Principal Scientist, ICAR-Indian Agricultural Research Institute, said: “We must focus on integrated farming which includes about three to four crops and livestock. We have 64 prototype models that are currently being tried out with a few farmers and the successful models have been sent to the government.
“We are advocating this throughout the entire country. We are researching farming patterns over a 10-year period and this will enable us to decide the best cropping systems for the country.”
While solutions are being developed by the state authorities — briquettes for power plants, converting the stubble into compressed bio-gas, powering brick kilns, etc., the infrastructure for ex-situ management is yet to be set up.
Industry voices present at the day-long session explained how there is no supply chain architecture for procuring the stubble waste from fields to provide to relevant industry.
There is a scope for entrepreneurs to build a startup economy by setting up logistics. There is a demand for aggregators, said industry players.
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