A senior Punjab official has said that crop diversification is not a solution to the problem of paddy stubble burning that it would take four to five years to resolve the problem.
The official also said that measuring acreage being burnt is a correct way to measure the extent of farm fires, not the number of farm fires.
Farmers in North India, mainly in Punjab and Haryana, burn paddy stubble every year in large numbers, which adds to the air pollution in October-November every year, and constitues in a big way to the air pollution in Delhi and National Capital Region (NCR).
The area under paddy cultivation in Punjab has increased from 29.61 lakh hectares in last year to 31.13 lakh hectares this year. This would result in the generation of 19.76 million ton of paddy straw this year as compared to 18.74 MT last year.
Punjab Pollution Control Board Member Secretary Krunesh Garg said at a workshop organised by the Delhi-based Climate Trends in Chandigarh on Monday that crop diversification is not a long-term solution because it does not mean that biomass will not be produced by other crops. It will just be another kind of biomass waste, like cotton sticks, mustard straw waste etc.
"Issues with respect to (stubble) burning will always remain. So, we need to find solutions, both in situ and ex-situ. A combination of these can only be effective," said Garg.
Dr Adarsh Pal Vig, Chairman, Punjab Pollution Control Board, said, "It is a social and a psychological problem where behaviour and attitude of farmers also needs to be addressed."
Vig said urbanisation and the exploding population in cities are causing a problem. Due to such factors, big cities like Delhi are already sitting on a tipping point and stubble becomes the last straw every season.
A prolonged spell of rains in September-end delayed paddy harvesting and subsequent farm fires in some regions of Punjab and Haryana. Another weather system is predicted to bring rain in parts of north India between October 4-8, which could further delay harvesting in some areas, forecasters said.
Experts say farmers are more likely to burn stubble to make up for the lost time and quickly prepare their fields for the next crop. Stubble burning begins around September 20 but the number of fire events remains low till October 12-14.
The rains in September-end suppressed farm fires in Punjab and Haryana and kept air pollution in check in Delhi-NCR, said Vinay Sehgal, principal scientist at the IARI, adding that if it rains next week, farm fires will shift towards mid-October, increasing their number in that period and compounding the impact.
Along with unfavourable meteorological conditions, paddy straw burning in Punjab and Haryana is a major reason behind the alarming spike in air pollution levels in the national capital in October and November.
Farmers set their fields on fire to quickly clear off the crop residue before cultivating wheat and potato.
According to the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Punjab had reported 71,304 farm fires between September 15 and November 30 last year and 83,002 farm fires in the corresponding period in 2020.
Last year, the share of farm fires in Delhi's PM 2.5 pollution had peaked to 48 per cent on November 7.
(With PTI inputs)