Last year, Haryana made significant progress in tackling the environmental concern, with stubble burning decreasing by an impressive 48 per cent during the winter months of 2021, as reported by the government.
As winter approaches, the Delhi-NCR region typically experiences a sharp decline in air quality, plunging into hazardous levels due to a hazardous blend of cold weather, stagnant atmospheric conditions, and emissions. Farm fires, frequently observed in North India’s agricultural belt, are a major contributor to the pollution crisis during this season. Farmers often employ this age-old practice to clear their fields for the subsequent sowing season after the paddy harvest.
Officials from the Agriculture Department told TOI that their focus is on 729 villages scattered across 12 districts, including Ambala, Fatehabad, Hisar, Jind, Karnal, Kurukshetra, Panipat, Rohtak, Kaithal, Yamunanagar, Sonipat, and Palwal. Among these, 147 villages have been categorized as “red zones” with five or more farm fires daily, while 582 fall under “yellow zones” with up to two daily farm fires.
Darshan Singh, a technical assistant at the Agriculture Department, told TOI that incentives for villages that successfully eliminate stubble burning. Yellow zone villages stand to receive rewards of Rs 50,000, while red zone villages can earn Rs 1 lakh.
Burning paddy straw post-harvest is a traditional method employed by farmers in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh. It remains a cost-effective option, especially for small-scale farmers who lack the necessary equipment for alternative residue disposal methods.In recent years, state governments have stepped in to provide equipment like super seeders, designed to remove stubble, to farmers and cooperatives at subsidized rates.To enforce these measures, teams comprising officials from various departments, including the State Pollution Control Board, Revenue Department, Panchayat Department, Agriculture Department, and the Police, have been formed at the village level. They will file complaints and issue challans against farmers found burning stubble. Additional block-level and district-level enforcement teams, along with mobile squads, have also been established, complete with district-level control rooms for monitoring.
Darshan Singh emphasized the importance of micro-level planning this harvest season, with daily progress reports from the Agriculture Department to be submitted to the state-level control room. The primary goal is to further reduce the incidence of farm fires and expand the areas where stubble burning is eliminated.
In a separate development, the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) instructed the governments of Punjab, Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh to provide daily reports on their actions taken from September 15 to the end of November, coinciding with the typical stubble burning period.
According to satellite imagery sourced from NASA and compiled by the Indian Agriculture Research Institute, Haryana recorded 3,661 active fire locations (AFL) during the 2022 kharif season. This figure marked a significant reduction compared to 2021, which saw 6,997 AFL. In 2020 (the pandemic year), there were 4,202 AFL, 6,364 in 2019, and 9,225 in 2018. Farmers attribute the decline in farm fires to the increased availability of harvesting machines and adverse weather conditions.
Inderjit Singh, the national vice-president of the All India Kisan Sabha, remarked that Haryana’s lower incidence of farm fires last year is likely to persist due to improved access to harvesting machinery and the impact of monsoon-related flooding on earlier paddy crops.