This article is about the blame game that is happening between the political parties and between different states, with people coming out with different explanations for this pollution.
Some people blame the stubble burning farmers, while some other people put all the blame on Diwali crackers, road dust, etc. All the Indians keep on blaming the farmers for stubble burning, and we blame the government for not stopping the farmers from doing so.
So let’s try and understand what this problem is and how bad is it hurting India?
Essentially, stubble is leftover from the rice. So when farmers cultivate rice, so when farmers cultivate paddy, they take out the rice and then the leftover material which is not usable is called stubble. The farmers burn the stubble on their field so that the field is ready for the next cycle of crops where they can cultivate the wheat. This is the basic information that you need to understand.
Now to produce about 1 tonne of rice, we require 70,000 tons of water. Now in the year 2020, India exported a record of 14.7 tonnes of rice. Out of which about 10 million tonnes was non-basmati and the remaining was basmati. Now let’s keep the basmati rice apart for some time because it is a good export, it gives you a good rate. It usually is exported at about 72 rupees per kilo. But the non-basmati rice that we are exporting usually gives us a rate of 22 to 24 rupees per kg.
The reason why we have to export such a lot of non-basmati rice is that farmers in India, specifically in Punjab and Haryana, cultivate so much rice, so much more than what we require that we have no other option but to export it. Now, just exporting 10 million tonnes of non-basmati rice means exporting 10 million X 70,000 tons of water that has been used to cultivate that rice.
Now let’s go ahead and trace why this water was used.
Farmers do not have any limit on how much groundwater that they can use. More states like Punjab and Haryana give free power to the farmer for tubewell. So they can run their tubewell, take out water from the ground, use it for rice production, and because they have gotten used to it, they know how to cultivate rice. Rice is also easily procured by the Food Corporation of India at the MSP.
So everyone is in their comfort zone with rice cultivation. Farmers are growing rice much more than what the people of the country require. Food Corporation of India also buys it because the government has promised to buy it at the MSP. This is leading to depleting groundwater. We have seen multiple reports of NITI Aayog about how the groundwater in India is depleting at an extremely fast pace.
Add to this problem another interesting law that was passed by Punjab and Haryana separately at about the same time. So in 2009, these two state governments passed the law, under which they said that farmers can only plant paddy that is rice from mid-June onwards. So earlier, the farmers used to plant paddy in April or at the beginning of May. But the state governments made this law that the farmers can only plant paddy from mid-June onwards. Why?
Because May-June onwards, monsoon starts to arrive. When the monsoon starts to arrive, they would have more water and they would not have to take out water from the ground. On the other hand, in April-May, when the farmers used to cultivate paddy earlier, they had to take most of the water out of the ground. Now, this means that they are cultivating paddy at a later stage means they will have to harvest it later on (i.e) in October.
Earlier, Rice used to be harvested in September. Now, when you are telling the farmers that you can only harvest rice in late October means that after harvesting they don’t have a lot of time between harvesting this rice and making the field ready for the next harvest for the wheat. In this little amount of time, the only option that the poor farmers have is that they have to burn the stubble and they can’t transport it anywhere.
The other problem is in mid-October and early November, when this burning starts, the wind pattern over Delhi becomes extremely stationary, meaning that all the smoke from stubble burning over Punjab and Haryana does not travel a long distance and becomes stationary over Delhi because of wind patterns over Delhi in this time period are extremely stationary. If this would have been done, let’s say in September, then the wind would have been much stronger and Delhi would not have had to face such a problem.
Now you see from beginning till the end how the problem is more manmade because of our decisions, rather than blaming nature for it.
Now, what exactly is the solution?
There are two ideas that can be implemented here.
The farmers can be encouraged and pushed towards Maize cultivation. Why?
Number one, we don’t need as much rice. The government warehouse is right now filled with rice, and we don’t even know what to do with it. Maize, on the other hand, can be used for converting into ethanol and then mixing it with petrol, just like the US is doing on a very large scale.
Secondly, a few years back, the World Bank started a pilot program in Punjab called Paani Bachao, Paisa Banao. Under this, the farmers were told that we are giving you electricity for free, but if you use less electricity, then we will pay you money. How?
For example, every farmer was given 1000 units of electricity for their tubewell. The farmers were told if out of these 1000 units you only use 800, then we will pay you an incentive for not using the 200 units or if you use only 600 units, then we will pay you more incentive for not using the 400 units. That’s a pilot program that World Bank launched in Punjab. Those kinds of programs can also be expanded to tackle this particular problem.