Current approach not helping cut farm fires, says Kejriwal in letter to Javadekar
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal wrote to Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar on Saturday, and asked him for an in-person meeting to discuss the crop stubble burning issue in northwest India.
In his letter (in Hindi), Kejriwal suggested a move away from the Centre’s scheme of subsidising straw management machinery, which he said hasn’t solved the farm fires problem, which plagues the region from October every year.
He wrote that he didn’t meet Javadekar earlier because the Delhi government had meetings with scientists at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) who had found a simpler technology to deal with crop stubble residue. The scientists have suggested that the stubble can be converted to manure using a chemical which may also improve soil fertility in the long run.
“I understand that the Centre and the various state governments are taking various measures as per their capacities. But the focus now for all state governments is on machines that can help cut stubble. Despite the central subsidy for these machines, farmers also have to pay a hefty amount to get them. Then they also spend money on getting the stubble cut with machines. This is one of the main reasons why many farmers are weary of procuring the machines,” he wrote.
Responding to an Aam Aadmi Party tweet on Saturday citing Kejriwal’s letter, Javadekar tweeted that they had already spoken over the phone. “Arvind Kejriwalji we have aleady spoken over the phone. Centre has already taken successful steps to curb air pollution in Delhi and we have seen results. I have also informed you that we had called meetings with all states involved in the matter,” Javadekar tweeted.
Crop stubble fires have started in Punjab earlier than expected, which could mean in combination with adverse meteorological conditions like low winds, air pollution could spike gradually in Delhi in the coming days.
But while the Centre is working on a scheme of subsidising straw management machinery, the Delhi government is suggesting the use of newer technologies in the field.
“The IARI technology can address these problems. We are going to try the technology in Delhi this year and ensure no stubble is burnt. Even though there is less time I hope the IARI technology is popularised in neighbouring states to reduce stubble burning. I can meet you when you call me,” Kejriwal wrote.
Last year an analysis of satellite data by Hiren Jethva, Research Scientist with, Universities Space Research Association at, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center had suggested there was virtually no decline in the number of crop stubble fires in 2018 compared to 2017, even as the Centre implemented a new policy for in-situ management of crop residue.
The Centre had launched a ₹1,150-crore scheme in 2018 to subsidise farm straw-management machinery in the northwestern states where rampant paddy-straw burning contributes to air pollution in Delhi every year.
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) had said last year that there was a 50% reduction in the agricultural area where crop residue burning takes place every October in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi based on satellite data collected by them.
ICAR director general, Trilochan Mohapatra did not answer HT’s calls on Saturday. On September 6, he had told HT, “We have disbursed the money this year also to states to ensure farmers get subsidised straw management machinery. By October 15, those machines should be in place. We are expecting a reduction in stubble burning cases. Already over 50% reduction in areas with crop stubble burning has been recorded.”
According to Harinder Singh Lakhowal, Bharatiya Kisan Union, general secretary (Punjab), “People have only started harvesting their crop now. Some people may have burnt stubble also. A large number of farmers have not received subsidies to buy straw management machinery this year so obviously they will burn stubble. Farmers are extremely disturbed about the farm bills also. It’s a crisis.”
Farmers can hire Happy-Seeder or other machinery at ₹1,200 to ₹1,500 per acre and will get a 50% subsidy if they choose to buy the machine. Farmers spend about ₹2,000 per acre on diesel etc to run residue-management machinery according to Lakhowal.
According to a study published in the Science Magazine journal last year, use of the Happy Seeder technology can potentially generate ₹6,000-₹11,500 more profit per hectare for farmers through reduced fertilizer and labour costs. The use of Happy Seeders can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions per hectare by more than 78%, the study had found.