Air Pollution

Enforcing a ban will not end the menace of stubble burning, say, researchers


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Winter air pollution caused by stubble burning


  • A recent study says that the enforcement of the ban on stubble burning isn’t an only feasible solution.

Ground zero reality

  • On average, about 20 million tonnes of straw are generated in Punjab, and they barely have two to three weeks to dispose them off and prepare the fields for the next crop.
  • Hence the popularity of deploying stubble-burning as a quick and cheap solution.
  • For about a decade now the Centre has held this practice responsible for the abysmal air quality in the capital in winter.

Ban not a solution

  • According to the team, the government’s efforts earmarking funds for specialized farming equipment (for straw management) or enforcing the state-led ban on the practice are unlikely to solve the problem.
  • Farmer cooperative groups a key link between government and farmers ought to be playing a more active role in educating farmers.
  • The main message is that farmers are not to blame (for the pollution crisis).
  • There are deeper causes beyond economic incentives or awareness about the health consequences of burning at play.

Govt. measures so far

  • The Centre has spent about ₹600 crore in subsidizing farm equipment via village cooperatives to enable farmers to access them and avoid stubble burning.
  • In 2018, Punjab had disbursed about 8,000 farm implements to individual farmers and set up 4,795 custom hiring centers, from where such machinery could be leased.
  • However, the success of these efforts has been mixed, even though stubble-fires in 2018 were fewer than in 2017 and 2016, according to satellite maps by independent researchers.

What do researchers say?

  • The researchers found that farmers who had bigger landholdings were more likely to burn straw.
  • Those who used harvesters (for cutting the straw) as opposed to manual labourers were more likely to engage in burning.
  • On average, the input costs of farmers who burned straw were about ₹40,000 per acre and those who didn’t about ₹25,000 per acre.
  • However the incomes of those who burned and those who didn’t were closer about ₹60,000 and ₹50,000 respectively.

Way Forward

  • There needs to be greater participation by village cooperatives in being able to impose social norms that would dissuade burners.
  • Only educating farmers about the monetary costs of burning stubble can address the environmental crisis triggered every year.
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