Air Pollution

Stubble burning in Punjab at 3-year low


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: GHGs relased by Stubble Burning

Mains level: Stubble Burning


Though early days, the number of crop fires reported out of Punjab are at a three-year low, suggest data from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) that tracks such fires via satellite.

What is Stubble Burning?

  • Stubble (parali) burning is a method of removing paddy crop residues from the field to sow wheat from the last week of September to November.
  • It is usually required in areas that use the combined harvesting method which leaves crop residue behind.
  • This practice mostly carried out in Punjab, Haryana and UP contributes solely to the grave winter pollution in the national capital.

Emissions from stubble burning

  • The process of burning farm residue is one of the major causes of air pollution in parts of north India, deteriorating the air quality.
  • Stubble burning is a significant source of carbon dioxide (CO2), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and hydrocarbons (HC).

Despite emissions, why do farmers burn stubble?

  • Crop residue burning is practised by the farmers to prepare the land for the next cultivation.
  • The major reason behind the stubble burning is the short time available between rice harvesting and sowing of wheat as delay in sowing wheat affects the wheat crop.
  • Between the harvesting of the paddy crop and the sowing of the next crop, there is only a two to three weeks’ time window is left.
  • Even though farmers are aware that the burning of straw is harmful to health, they do not have alternatives for utilizing them effectively.
  • The farmers are ill-equipped to deal with waste because they cannot afford the new technology that is available to handle the waste material.
  • Therefore, stubble burning is considered one of the cheapest methods to clean the field after the harvesting season.

Impact of stubble burning

  • Air Pollution: Stubble burning emits toxic pollutants in the atmosphere containing harmful gases like Carbon Monoxide (CO), methane (CH4), carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds (VOC). These pollutants disperse in the surroundings and eventually affect air quality and people’s health by forming a thick blanket of smog. Along with vehicular emissions, it affects the Air Quality Index (AQI) in the national capital and NCR.
  • Soil degradation: Soil becomes less fertile and its nutrients are destroyed when the husk is burned on the ground. Organic content of soil is completely destroyed. Stubble burning generates heat that penetrates into the soil, causing an increase in erosion, loss of useful microbes and moisture.

Alternative solutions

  • Power generation: The available paddy straw can be effectively used for power generation, which will go a long way towards overcoming the problem of disposal of crop residues and power deficit in the region.
  • In-situ decomposition: Suitable machinery for collection, chopping and in situ incorporation of straw is required. We can use Pusa Biodecomposer, Biomethanation etc.
  • Organic manuring: Convert the removed residues into enriched organic manure through composting.


  • Unless financial assistance is to be provided by the Centre for boosting farm mechanization, it is difficult to completely stop stubble burning.
  • States need to make alternative arrangements for the consumption of paddy straw into the soil as per the directions of the NGT.


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