Crop or stubble burning is the practice of intentionally setting fire to the straw stubble that remains after grains, such as rice and wheat, have been harvested. Its impact on the environment at this time of the year leaves the Delhi National Capital Region gasping for breath.
It’s a perennial issue that among other measures, makes governments shut down, educational institutions and offices and take operations online, apply odd-even traffic rules, restrict entry of diesel-run heavy vehicles and stop construction work temporarily.
This menace keeps returning to the landlocked territory every year and sediments in a way that only heavy rainfall can clean. Along with burning of fireworks available all-over illegally, the decade-long plan of cloud seeding and wearing masks look futile in front of this alarming danger.
“The problem with Delhi is a combination of multiple things happening simultaneously. Delhi, like many places across the globe, has an atmospheric phenomenon, called inversion, which happens during this time of year. Once inversion happens, it is like a shield which prevents any pollutants from escaping,” says Santhosh Jayaram, Senior Vice President & Global Head – Sustainability at HCLTech.
“There are also multiple sources of pollution in Delhi, of which, the stubble burning is no doubt a significant contributor. Solution to the pollution in Delhi will have to be multifaceted and require technology interventions and also management and policy intervention,” he adds.
Notably, New Delhi ranked second in the top 10 most polluted cities in the world in 2022 with average Air Quality Index (AQI) of 219 after China’s Kashgar (222).
With the AQI now crossing the 500 mark (a severe plus category), which is at least 20 times more than the permissible limit set by the World Health Organization, there’s a rise in patients getting admitted to hospitals due to respiratory issues and an increase in the sale of air purifiers.
“Respiratory problems may increase in people with diseases like bronchitis, asthma and heart problems. People who do not have such issues may also face breathing issues due to decreased oxygen saturation rate. Patients with complaints of breathing are already being hospitalized, referred to ICU and OPDs,” Dr Randeep Guleria, former AIIMS director and senior pulmonologist, told news agency ANI on Monday.
Some sustainably engineered solutions have been adopted to bring relief to this problem. They include:
Happy seeder: Mounted on a tractor, this machine is used to cut and lift straw, sow wheat and rice in soil and deposit straw over the sown area, instead of burning the stubble.
Biomass briquettes: An alternative to coal, this compressed block of leftover straw and paddy residue is a sustainable measure in thermal power plants that reduces carbon footprint by a significant margin.
Packaging and fodder: Leftover paddy can be collected and converted into paper, cattle fodder, animal bedding, mushroom compost, agri-fiber boards and packaging material by cottage industries spread across India.
Compost and fertilizer: The Indian Agriculture Research Institute has introduced a bio-enzyme that is sprayed on the paddy residue, resulting in decomposing the stubble and turning it into manure in 20-25 days.
Don’t burn, retain: The benefits of retaining stubble begin with minimizing erosion risks, promoting nutrient recycling and soil’s microbial biomass, improving water use efficiency and soil health, and retaining moisture in soil that reduces evaporation and helps in autumn rainfall.
At a government level, the Gauthan model is fostering sustainable rural development in Chhattisgarh. It’s a unique initiative aimed at generating livelihood opportunities. These centers integrate agriculture, livestock management, skill development and entrepreneurship, thereby empowering local communities.
What happens in a Gauthan?
Gauthan is a multi-activity center made on a five-acre plot held in common by each village. Here, stubble and crop residue are collected through stubble donations (Parali Daan). It’s then mixed with natural enzymes and cow dung and converted into organic fertilizer.
While generating employment among youth, the government has not only encouraged this donation by helping with transportation of stubble but also managed to set up 2,000 such centers across the state.