Just 6% paddy straw can be managed ex-situ in Punjab
Lack of infrastructure, facilities proving to be a major challenge in adopting this cost-effective way of crop residue management, a key factor in controlling farm fires in Punjab
With paddy harvesting picking up pace, pressure is mounting on the Punjab government to give a big push to ex-situ crop residue management to tackle farm fires this season. The state, however, is facing tough challenges in adopting this cost-effective system of managing stubble. Reason: lack of infrastructure and facilities.
Punjab produces roughly 185 lakh tonnes of paddy straw every year. Of this, nearly half is managed in-situ (mixing the residue in the soil) and ex-situ (used as fuel) methods and rest is set ablaze. Fires raging from the paddy fields are a major source of pollution in North India, especially in the winter months, raising widespread health concerns.
According to the plan drawn out by the state, only 11 lakh tonne stubble is expected to be managed by ex-situ (evacuation from the farms) way which is just 6% of the total straw produced.
The latest data by Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) reveals that there are 11 privately owned biomass-based power generating plants in the state, with a total generating capacity of 97.5 megawatts annually, consuming 8.8 lakh tonne of paddy straw. While Muktsar, Fazilka and Hoshiarpur have two plants each, Jalandhar, Mansa, Moga, Faridkot and Ferozepur districts have a facility each.
According to the PPCB, seven industrial units manufacturing paper, cement, sugar and edible oil are using stubble as fuel with a 3 lakh tonne consumption. Five more such industries have committed to using 2.75 lakh tonnes of stubble in near future.
The NGT has also asked thermal power plants to use stubble pellets as 5-10% of its total fuel consumption. But, the managements of these plants say the availability of pellets is a concern. “We use stubble in brickets or pellets form, and as per our requirement, the production is insufficient. There is one plant in Ludhiana that produces pellets but the output is quite less,” said a manager of a private thermal plant at Rajpura.
“Though the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and the Commission for Air Quality and Monitoring (CAQM) have been laying thrust on ex-situ methods, we are facing serious issues due to lack of infrastructure,” said an official.
Punjab Agricultural University vice-chancellor Dr Satbir Singh Gosal said the state needs an infrastructural push to switch to ex-situ methods. “It’s a cheaper proposition but needs infrastructure for which big budget is required,” he said, adding that the state needs more biomass-based power generating plants, pellets making industry, bio-CNG plants, fast transportation to evacuate stubble from the farms and storage godowns.
“So far, the state government has largely focused on in-situ crop residue management which is an expensive option. Ex-situ management is the effective way to dispose of paddy stubble but it in the absence of infrastructure it is difficult to encourage farmers to adopt this system,” asked Sukhdev Singh Kokri Kalan, general secretary Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan).
“With the Centre and the AAP-led state government dropping the plan to pay incentive to the farmers for not burning stubble, the ex-situ management policy could help the farming community earn some extra bucks by selling crop residue. But this is not possible if farmers have no place to sell their stubble,” he added.
Despite ₹1,145 crore being spent on subsidised machines, with 90,000 already distributed, in the past four years and allocation of ₹275 crore grant for the current year, there is no let-up in farm fires, with 2021 alone reporting a total of 71,246 such incidents during the paddy harvest season.