Delhi would breathe a lot easier if farmers in neighbouring Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan were to stop crop stubble burning, in keeping with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ban on the practice. That these states—chiefly Punjab and Haryana—have failed to curb the practice in a meaningful manner is evident from the present worsening of air quality in Delhi. To be sure, Punjab has brought down crop burning by 30% this year as compared to the last year, but AQI in Delhi has reached such levels that a medicos’ collective has recommended shutting of schools. While The Indian
Express reported that Punjab was considering offering a $1-million reward for a solution to the problem, a farmers’ union has made it clear that unless farmers are offered a monetary incentive to junk the practice—alternatives are expensive and therefore the farmers must get a flat `200 per quintal incentive or subsidies for stubble-removing machinery—they will continue burning stubble.
The Punjab government will do well to emulate the Bathinda district administration that is using MGNREGA to drive construction of compost pits in farm land and encourage farmers to use the crop stubble as raw material for composting. While, according to a district official, stubble from a one-acre farm will yield manure worth `20,000, given almost 20 million tonnes of paddy straw is burnt in the state, there could be considerable gains if the move were adopted across the state. While Punjab has submitted before the NGT that it is looking at using MGNREGA funds to tackle the stubble-burning problem, the start Bathinda has made—stubble from 22,000 hectares of farm land have already been removed—should show the way to Punjab and the other states where the practice is prevalent.