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Why Paddy Stubble Continues to be Burnt in Punjab?

Meeting Challenges with Solutions

L. S. Kurinji and Srish Prakash
October 2021 | Risks & Adaptation

Suggested citation: Kurinji, L. S, and Srish Prakash. 2021. Why Paddy Stubble Continues to be Burnt in Punjab? Meeting Challenges with Solutions. New Delhi: Council on Energy, Environment and Water.

Overview

This study examines the drivers of continued stubble burning in Punjab and reflects on the state's preparedness towards managing crop residue in the winter of 2021. It is based on a multi-stakeholder consultation that included interviews with officials from the Department of Agriculture, Krishi Vigyan Kendras, operators of Custom Hiring Centres (CHCs) and representatives from farm unions across 17 districts to capture varying perspectives on the issue. The study also aims to support the Punjab government in identifying pitfalls in the existing policy landscape and ensuring timely access to crop residue management options to farmers.

Millions of people living in the Indo-Gangetic Plains (IGP) bear the brunt of the decades-old crop residue burning practice in Punjab, which jeopardises their health in multiple ways. In the past, the central and state governments have implemented several policy measures ranging from subsidising crop residue management (CRM) machines to providing cash incentives for small farmers, who do not burn the straw, to banning crop residue burning. However, despite the intent and efforts, stubble burning persists and presents an important public policy conundrum.

Key Findings

  • Paddy continues to dominate Punjab’s Kharif crop mix despite years of effort to diversify crops.
  • The area under paddy cultivation in Punjab during the Kharif season in 2021 is 30.66 lakh hectares, which is only 2.6 per cent lower than 31.49 lakh hectares in 2020. Against the state’s 2021 diversification target of 3.25 lakh hectares under cotton, 5.37 lakh hectares under basmati, and 1.50 lakh hectares under maize, the state could only achieve 3.04 lakh hectares for cotton, 4.85 lakh hectares for basmati, and 1.26 lakh hectares for maize.
  • Area under the age-old late-maturing PUSA 44 variety, which has a high straw load of paddy, has declined considerably. However, it is still a dominant variety at least in the districts where burning is frequent.
  • Punjab has seen a dramatic increase in the deployment of in-situ crop residue management. By 2020, Punjab had established 19,834 Custom Hiring Centres and deployed 76,626 crop residue management (CRM) machines, including 13,316 happy seeders and 17,697 super seeders.
  • Sangrur district has the maximum number of happy and super seeders, followed by Muktsar, Bathinda, and Mansa.
  • If deployed at full capacity, the existing stock of happy seeders and super seeders can manage up to 17 lakh hectares, which correspond to 66 per cent of area sown under non-basmati variety, in 2021. However, their adoption is limited and utilisation remains inefficient.
  • The rental/custom hiring model of machines is picking pace but logistical challenges and behavioural issues are keeping it from reaching its full potential.
  • Farmers rely on local networks to access the rental model and lack awareness about the union government's FARMS app for online rentals.
  • The rising fuel prices have increased the operational cost of the happy and super seeders by 8 per cent and 5 per cent respectively. This can dampen the popularity of these machines.
  • Ex-situ utilisation capacity has stalled in the state and has remained below 1 million tonnes (less than 6 per cent of residue generated in the state) since 2019.
  • The much talked about PUSA decomposer can prove to be a game-changer due to its low cost of INR 20 per hectare. However, its potential needs to be demonstrated at a large scale for improving farmers’ awareness and finding their acceptance.
  • Farmers' sentiment significantly impacts crop residue burning and the recent agricultural reforms have had an undesired impact on stubble burning.

Key Recommendation

  • Ensure that CRM machines that are to be provided this year are handed over well before the commencement of the residue burning season.
  • Engage with relevant stakeholders to popularise the CHC model and dispel the misconceptions about the use and impact of options such as the happy seeder.
  • Use social networking platforms such as text messages, WhatsApp, Facebook, and others to share the details of the CHCs at the block level to increase their reach beyond their immediate social networks.
  • Provide financial assistance to farmers, who use CRM machines, in order to compensate for the increase in operational cost of these machines vis-à-vis the rising fuel prices.
  • Study the effectiveness of the PUSA decomposer extensively in Punjab. Farmers should be made aware of its efficacy both in terms of managing crop residue and reducing costs.
  • Ensure that all the existing ex-situ end-users are operating at their maximum capacity. In addition, the government must ensure that the plants that were or are to be commissioned this year initiate biomass procurement and storage well in advance.
Punjab should ensure financial viability, better logistics management of existing CRM options and targeted outreach to reduce stubble burning in the Kharif season of 2021.

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