As paddy harvesting reaches its peak in the district, health advisories issued by the administration as well as health experts against the burning of paddy stalks continue to go unheeded, with many continuing the practice undeterred.
Recently, deputy commissioner Rajat Agarwal issued a note cautioning farmers regarding the health hazards of burning paddy stalks, which experts say is harmful not only to the environment but may also result in the loss of vital nutrients from the soil.
PPS Pangli, the president of National Farmers Empowerment Initiative (NFEI), New Delhi, blames the lax enforcement of laws and the lack of awareness of the health hazard for the prevalence of the practice.
“The administration must take stringent measures to curb the menace practice,” he said.
Burning stalks reduces soil nutrients
Jagtar Singh Dhiman, an additional director of research at PAU, says finding alternative uses for paddy stalks has become the need of the hour.
“Burning paddy stalks harms microorganisms and friendly insects in the soil and reduces the nutritional content of the soil,” he said.
Paddy stalk contains 25% nitrogen, 50% phosphors and 75% potash.
Burning 10 quintals of paddy straw releases 400 kg of organic carbon, 5.5 kg of nitrogen, 2.3 kg of phosphors, 25 kg of potassium and 1.2 kg of gandhak into the soil, besides emitting several harmful gases into the air.
The eco-friendly method of disposing paddy stalks, says Dr Dhiman, is to use it for composting, biogas production and even as fodder.
Asthma, allergies on the rise
With winter approaching, burning the stalks leads to dense smog, which not only affects visibility but also leads to respiratory ailments such as bronchitis, asthmatic and other allergies.
There has been a spike in the number of persons complaining of respiratory problems, especially since the beginning of the paddy harvesting season.
Dr Avinash Jindal, head of medicine at the Lord Mahavira Civil Hospital, says, “There has been a rise in the number of asthma, especially from the rural areas. We get close to 7-8 patients complaining of asthma and other respiratory every day, up from 1-2 patients earlier.”
He advises extra care during this season: besides regular visits to the doctor, patients must avoid going out unnecessarily.
“There are special masks available in the market. People suffering from such problems should use it,” he said.
Dr Harish Sehgal, head of the medicine department of GTB Hospital said irritation in the eyes is another symptom of the smog.