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Stubble Burning – A Trouble To The Environment 

Introduction

In farming whether it may be large or small, stubble burning has been regarded as one of the most commonly used methods for removing crop residues after the harvest. It is particularly used with the crops like rice, maize, wheat, sugarcane, etc. The burning of this unwanted vegetation to prepare land for sowing crops has been in practice all over the world. India, China, and United States are the top burners of crop residues.

In India, air pollution is rampant in northern parts, recently the Delhi’s Air Quality Index (AQI) has been in the severe zone, and was claimed that Stubble burning is the major cause of air pollution in Delhi, but the “contribution of the farm fires or stubble burning only has 10% share in Delhi’s severe pollution” said the central government to the supreme court in Aditya Dubey (Minor) V. Union of India and others and also stated that the industry and road dust played a big role.

Meaning of Stubble Burning

Stubble is the leftover part of the crop that remained after the grain is harvested and the situation of intentionally setting fire to the leftover parts of the crop in order to remove them from the field to sow the next crop is known as stubble burning. It is an easy method to dispose the waste materials from the field. This technique of stubble burning has a severe effect on the environment as well as human beings.

Effects of Stubble Burning

Stubble burning generates various environmental issues.

The first outcome of this method is it contributes significantly to air pollution, It releases various detrimental gases in the atmosphere causing air pollution, that includes greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and some particles known as Black carbon.

It has harmful effects on human health and affects crop growth and the natural ecosystem.

It also affects and harms the micro-organism and the natural nutrients present in the soil, making the soil less fertile.
It results in the depletion of the essential nutrients of the crop.

A recent study has suggested that the pollution from stubble burning has reduced lung function and is particularly harmful to women. And during the period of stubble burning the most commonly noted symptoms includes breathlessness, cough, skin rashes, running nose, itchiness of eyes, etc.

What Does the Law Say

Many of the European union’s member states have outlawed the burning of straw and stubble. In 2015, The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had banned stubble burning in several states of our country. It is also banned under section 144 of the CrPC and the person not complying with it has to face action under section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated) of the IPC and section 19 clause 5 of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act,1981 provides that “burning of any material other than fuel” causing air pollution could be prohibited by the state government. But still, stubble burning is continued in many parts of the country.

The supreme court in the case of M.C. Mehta v Union Of India observed that “there is a blatant violation of Article 21 of the Constitution i.e., Right to Life by the serious kind of pollution which is being caused by various factors including stubble burning”. And recently the apex court in Aditya Dubey (Minor) V. Union of India and others has directed the center to take emergency steps to effectively control air pollution and to ensure implementation.

Alternative Methods of Stubble Burning

While stubble burning is the easiest and the cheapest method there are other less harmful methods of clearing the stubble which can be directly valuable to the farmers. One such method is ‘Happy seeder’ or ‘Turbo Happy seeder’ which has been developed in the last few years for in-situ management of stubble, where the stubble is cut down and gathered before seeding and the cut stubble is then deposited as mulch behind the seed sower. The essence of this in situ management is that it is environmentally friendly as it prevents air pollution.

In addition to this, another in-situ crop residue management is in the form of a Bio-enzyme called PUSA decomposer, which was developed by the scientists of the Indian agriculture research institute, that turns the crop residue into manure in 15-20 days and also improves the quality of the soil. This presents an economically viable and time-efficient solution to stubble burning.

Organic composting is yet another alternative that has been developed in recent years where the 90% of the stubble is converted into manure within 20 days. It is the process where organic waste is converted into compost which can be used as fertilizer by microorganisms.
Another possible method is where the production of bioenergy from the crop residues can be used for liquid biofuel production, the most commonly produced biofuel from the crop residues is cellulose-based ethanol.

Other methods include using crop residue to make products such as paper and packing materials and the paddy straw can also be used as fodder for feeding the animals. Apart from these methods one of the simplest methods is of changing the crop cultivation pattern.

Conclusion

Stubble burning is the most commonly used method all over the world, where the crop residue is set on fire in order to prepare the land for sowing the next crop. It has become a major problem to the environment as it releases a range of air pollutants which are the main reasons for the decline of air quality. Despite banning stubble burning is still practiced in some parts of our country which causes respiratory and skin diseases and it is also harmful to bio-diversity.

If managed properly the crop stubbles provide more economic benefits to the farmers and protect the environment from severe pollution, so the government has to play an important role in abolishing this age-old practice by educating and spreading awareness among the farmers about the alternative methods available and, it has to take necessary steps to control air pollution and ensure the proper implementation.

References

  • Porichha, G.K.; Hu, Y.; Rao, K.T.V.; Xu, C.C. Crop Residue Management in India: Stubble Burning vs. Other Utilizations including Bioenergy. Energies 2021, 14, 4281. Available at https://doi.org/10.3390/ en14144281 ., last accessed on 23/12/21
  • https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/ordeal-by-fire-after-slow-start-stubble-burning-at-5-year-high/articleshow/87767032.cms
  • https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/lung-function-hit-by-stubble-burning-study/article37344517.ece
  • https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/what-is-the-contribution-of-stubble-burning-to-delhi-s-pollution-101636988661697.html
  • https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/stubble-burning-delhi-air-pollution-solicitor-general-supreme-court-tushar-mehta-185701
  • https://thewire.in/agriculture/the-govt-has-spent-crores-but-failed-to-find-a-viable-alternative-to-stubble-burning-in-punjab

This article has been written by Naveen Talawar, student at Karnataka State Law University’s Law School.

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