Clearing the Smoke: Punjab Fire and the Remarkable Drop in Stubble Burning Incidents in North India

Punjab Fire: As autumn descends upon North India, so does the annual concern over stubble-burning, significantly contributing to the region’s severe air pollution problem. However, recent data suggests that a change may be on the horizon. According to the Centre’s Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM), the number of stubble-burning incidents in Punjab and Haryana has seen a notable reduction this year, marking a significant step towards mitigating air pollution in the region.

What is stubble-burning?

Stubble burning, or crop residue burning, is when farmers set fire to the leftover plant material in their fields after harvesting crops like rice or wheat. This practice, common in North India, clears fields quickly but releases harmful pollutants into the air, affecting the environment and human health. It also depletes soil quality. Efforts are underway to reduce stubble burning by promoting alternative methods and incentivizing farmers for more sustainable practices.

A Remarkable Decline in Stubble Burning

From September 15 to October 29, the cumulative number of farm fires in Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, and NCR areas of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh has reduced from 13,964 in 2022 to 6,391 in 2023, a decline of around 56%. These figures provide hope for cleaner air and healthier lives for millions of residents in the region. In the corresponding period in 2021, there were 11,461 stubble-burning cases, emphasizing the consistent progress in recent years.

State-Specific Data

  • Punjab: A leading contributor to stubble burning, Punjab has made significant strides in reducing this environmental concern. In 2022, the state recorded 12,112 stubble burning incidents in the 45 days between September 15 and October 29. However, in 2023, this number plummeted to 5,254, reflecting a substantial decrease of 56.6%. Furthermore, this reduction follows a 41.6% decline compared to the 2021 figures.
  • Haryana: Similarly, Haryana has reported commendable progress, recording only 1,094 stubble-burning cases in the same 45-day period in 2023, compared to 1,813 in 2022 and 2,413 in 2021; this equates to a reduction of 39.7% from the previous year and a 54.7% decline compared to 2021.

Punjab Fire: The Root Causes of Stubble Burning

Farmers burn stubble primarily to clear crop residues before planting new crops. The short window between the paddy harvest and the Rabi crop (wheat) leaves farmers with limited time to prepare their fields. Hence, burning crop residues offers a quick solution. However, this practice results in widespread air pollution, contributing to the deterioration of air quality in North India.

A Multi-Pronged Approach to Mitigate Stubble Burning

Several measures have been taken to combat stubble burning in the region. The Punjab government has set an ambitious goal to reduce farm fires by 50% this winter season and eliminate stubble burning in specific districts, namely Hoshiarpur, Malerkotla, Pathankot, Rupnagar, SAS Nagar (Mohali), and SBS Nagar. These efforts are guided by an action plan that addresses the 31 lakh hectares of paddy cultivation in the state, which generates approximately 16 million tons of paddy straw. This straw is managed using both in-situ and ex-situ methods.

Haryana, with around 14.82 lakh hectares of paddy cultivation, generating over 7.3 million tons of paddy straw, also aims for near elimination of farm fires this year. It’s worth noting that unfavorable meteorological conditions, coupled with paddy straw burning in neighboring states, significantly contribute to air pollution in Delhi during October and November.

Government Initiatives to Address Stubble Burning

The Central government has allocated approximately Rs. 3,333 crore under the Crop Residue Management Scheme to state governments, including Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Delhi. These funds support the subsidized procurement of machines and equipment for in-situ and ex-situ management of paddy straw. In Punjab, 1, 17,672 crop residue management machines are available, while Haryana has 80,071, and Uttar Pradesh-NCR has 7,986. Efforts are underway to procure additional machines to bolster the availability during the current harvesting season.

Punjab Fire: Challenges on the Horizon

While reducing paddy stubble burning incidents is promising, a recent surge in Punjab Fire indicates that challenges persist. As harvesting activities peak in the coming weeks, the threat of increased Punjab Fire remains. On October 29, Punjab Fire reported 1,068 Punjab Fire cases, a stark reminder of the ongoing battle against this environmental issue.

The reduction in stubble-burning incidents in Punjab Fire and Haryana reflects a commendable step forward in the fight against air pollution in North India. The collaborative efforts of the government, farmers, and other stakeholders, alongside initiatives and machinery allocation, have made a notable impact. However, it’s essential to remain vigilant as the peak harvesting season approaches, ensuring that the progress made so far is not undone. These efforts serve as a beacon of hope, inspiring the region to work together towards cleaner air and a healthier environment.


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