Haryana Farm Fires
A problem has arisen in the Punjab area of India among government officials and farmers. Forest fires, as a result of clearing land for crop planting of the already oppressed farmers, have been made illegal in the past, only to be protested and still affecting hundreds of millions. It is especially dangerous in the COVID-19 ridden country of India, where air quality matters even more to keep people’s immune systems healthy.
Farmers burn a material known as paddy stubble to clear fields for the winter wheat crop, which is distributed by the government. Farmers generally plant rice in May and wheat in November. In order to rotate between crops in time, making extra money and creating more food for themselves and others, farmers are known to burn leftover debris and other materials from the rice plants.
This is creating copious amounts of air pollution in the northern plains of India, as the north easterly winds bring pollution to mix with local emissions in certain states. This adds to India’s air problem already, especially around neighboring states where it can negatively impact people’s breathing and overall health.
Depending on the monsoon season, and how early or late they come in the season, the forest fires can be more frequent and earlier than usual. This can mix with more pollution in the air as far as 150 miles away in Delhi or other states around the area. As we have dove into in previous articles, farmers are fighting to survive in an arduous agricultural market, constantly having to worry about paying back loans, feeding families, and now not burning stubble to clear their land. While it is a dangerous amount of pollution, getting worse each year, it just extends the gap between the government officials and farmers of the nation in another way where producers of these goods feel targeted.
The government has implemented a few tactics to try to stop or incentivize not burning paddy stubble. The government has suggested alternatives, such as organic composting or other biochemical methods, to no avail due to pricing and accessibility. India has outright banned it, however growers of all crops still used it in protest of the government and out of necessity. There have been fines and even jailings because of the burning of it. There was even a rumored 2,400 rupees per acre incentive to all farmers in northern states to stop the burning of these plant remains, which never came to fruition.
To stop this process, tractor-mounted “happy seeders” as they were called have been created and distributed by the Punjab government. It runs on a fossil fuel, diesel, which burns into the air, but is a lot more efficient for less pollution. The only problem, at least for the area of Punjab, is availability and cost. More than double the 24,000 happy seeders would be needed in order to clear all of the land in a timely manner for wheat season, and would cost farmers around 3,000 rupees per acre, more than the government would give the people.
All in all, a greener, more cost effective way to get rid of the rice crop at the end of the season would be most helpful to stop the burning of paddy stubble. The government has tried time and time again to stop workers from doing this, but still persists because of the poor options that they left for the people. The other biochemical options like biochar, turning them into biodegradable objects, and more exist, but need to become cheaper and easier to do, especially in rural India. With the COVID-19 pandemic still in full effect, air quality does matter in keeping all citizens of polluted areas safe. The better, more circulated and clean air is, the better to prevent the spread. If the government can somehow incentivize these more eco-friendly options, make the accessible, and keep up with it, air quality in not only Punjab and Haryana, but also miles away in Delhi will get a lot better for everyone.