Tackling straw burning

As dense smog and haze once again envelope the northern region, the burning question of the authorities’ inability to combat the situation assails the citizens, who experience the debilitating effects of air pollution year after year. In fact, the ground reality portends a yawning gap between the steps purported to have been taken to deter/incentivise the farmers from setting ablaze stubble and the veracity of the claims. For, it is certain that if the alternatives given were viable, no peasant would have willingly set aflame the stubble and exposed himself and his fellowmen to the health risks posed by the noxious fumes and particulate matter polluting the air and travelling afar with the wind. During October-November, farm fires contribute significantly to the poor air quality of the NCR, which is among the most polluted areas of the world.

Paddy straw burning cases in Punjab rose five-fold in the beginning of October as compared to the corresponding period last year and Haryana has till now witnessed 1,000 more cases of farm fires than last year. These facts are illustrative of how divorced the government’s schemes are from the actual needs of the farmers on this score. No matter how well-meaning the strictures, ordinances, committees, policies and subsidies envisaged to reduce farm fires may be, unless they strike a chord with the majority of the agriculturists — mainly the small and marginal ones — it is difficult to stop them from striking a match to the residue.

Monitoring the air quality or imposing crippling fines on the errant farmers must be supplemented by doable measures. The machinery, including Happy Seeders, at present is too costly, the subsidised machines do not cover all peasants, and buying of paddy straw briquettes by companies is too meagre. Clearly, funds provided to deal with the large-scale operation are inadequate. Imaginative ways out of this persistent problem are urgently required. While big corporates could come forward with a helping hand, a cess to pay the farmers in lieu of stubble sold on the lines of levy slapped on car sales to fight pollution is also worthy of consideration.

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