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Crop-burning could have been avoided this year, but finding money was a problem

Rs 3,000-cr package discussed in September but states wanted Centre to pay, which said no budget

Written by Amitabh Sinha | Bonn | Updated: November 13, 2017 5:23 am
delhi pollution, crop burning, smog, air quality index, stubble burning, cii, niti aayog clean air initiative, indian express Stubble from the harvested paddy being burnt in fields near Panipat, Haryana. (Express photo by Amit Mehra/Files)

This season’s stubble-burning in north and north-western India, believed to be largely responsible for the heavy smog over Delhi, could have been avoided if the Centre and the states concerned had agreed on a formula to share the burden of a newly finalised financial incentive package to dissuade farmers from burning their crops, a senior official confirmed to The Indian Express.

The package worth more than Rs 3,000 crore was recommended by one of the task-forces set up under the CII-NITI Aayog Cleaner Air initiative earlier this year. In its report submitted in September, the task force had argued that farmers needed financial help in shifting to alternative ways of dealing with the agricultural waste. Among the easy alternatives suggested was the burning of waste in a brick-and-clay dome-like structure in the absence of oxygen to produce biochar or prali-char, a carbon-rich residue which has commercial value as soil nutrient.

It was realised that farmers needed to be provided money not just to build the brick-and-clay structures but also to pay for the labour needed to cut the waste and take it to the burning facility.

The proposal for the financial package was discussed with officials of Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh at a video-conference organised by NITI Aayog, in which senior officers of the Central government also participated. After assessing the quantity of crop-burning in each of these states, the task force had calculated that farmers in Punjab alone required nearly Rs 1,500 crore this season. Farmers in other states together required a similar amount.

At the video-conference, state government officials asked the Centre to provide them this money. Punjab, in particular, is learnt to have said that it did not have the requisite funds for the financial package. The Centre, on the other hand, argued that there was no existing scheme or budget head under which money to prevent crop-burning could be transferred to the states. It is also said to have expressed apprehension that even if it did find some way to make a payment to these four states, there could be similar demands from other states as well. Accordingly, it urged the state governments to find funds from their own resources, and distribute the money quickly so that crop-burning could be avoided this season itself.

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However, the issue of who would pay the money remained unresolved and it became apparent that the financial package could not be rolled out this season. In subsequent communications, the Centre and state governments agreed to continue the discussions to work out a mutually agreeable burden-sharing formula in time for the next season of crop-burning. It was realised that it would also give the governments adequate time to finalise the logistics of the exercise, like calculating the payment to be made to each farmer after assessing his or her land-holding and the quantity of agricultural waste generated. It was decided that the payments could be made through the direct benefits transfer route, directly into the bank accounts of farmers.

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In the nearly year-long window, the governments also hope to sensitise the farmers to other financially rewarding alternatives of crop-burning, in which the agricultural waste could be put to more meaningful uses, like production of bio-CNG and bio-ethanol.

But all this, including sustainable long-term production of biochar or prali-char, requires the creation of suitable markets which will put a monetary value on agricultural waste, thus discouraging farmers from burning the stubble, which currently has zero value to them.

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  1. A
    Nov 13, 2017 at 1:50 pm
    Farmers in Haryana and Punjab may form a cooperative (like Anand in Gujarat) and buy paddy thrashing machine jointly. 50 farmers can have one machine on a sharing basis among themselves. This will lower the cost of machine per farmer as well as help in keeping the environment clean. Just saying that we are poor is not acceptable in a modern society. Even GOD helps those who help themselves. Many people keep smart phones. If farmers and politicians show some smart thinking to the society, country and the world, it well lead to a win-win situation for all.
    1. J
      Nov 13, 2017 at 1:23 pm
      What is the AQI of the towns that fall in between Punjab and Delhi? Maybe the stubble smoke sits in a train and crosses all the towns on the way and gets down at Delhi railway station and pollutes Delhi. Bloody smart smog.
      1. B
        Nov 14, 2017 at 10:27 am
        The whole of the northern plain from Lahore to eastern UP is covered in haze. There are towns in UP that have worse AQI than Delhi, including one (forgot the name) that touched 500 few days ago. Keep playing the blame game and nothing will be resolved. In the end you will suffer.
      2. L
        Nov 13, 2017 at 1:07 pm
        THIS IS A central government induced crisis. They need to compensate the farmers. This is not for the states to decide and sort out. Shame on the Modi government. Pollution levels are worse in various cities in UP. But a press ban on information. Feku Modi is killing people by his hot air and his lack of intervention on an environmental emergency.
        1. K
          Krish G
          Nov 13, 2017 at 7:06 pm
          Only dialogue bazi traveling world over. This not state or centre issue. Its country issue. Is this how Modi govt. shows it patriotism. Songs are just songs they don't prove anyone's patriotism, its the work they do? All four states including Punjab under SAD was in control of BJP, but this party is least interested in general good of the public, they are just a Nara party.
        2. T
          Thomas George
          Nov 13, 2017 at 1:04 pm
          In India, no one cares about one another. We follow laws only when enforcers are looking even then, we choose bribing. There are many vehicles that do not meet emission norms, yet are compliant on paper. Most industries pollute the air and water, yet are compliant on paper. Bad electricity infrastructure leads to rampant use of diesel generators. I am sure that driver only cars are plying on the roads of the fog belt even now because it is convenient. The public transport buses are smoke factories. Sewage is dumped by muni l bodies into rivers rather than treat them. Yet, when the sh it hits the fan, we single out one cause and vilify them. If the governments in the northern states do not look at their polluting industries, and vehicles now, when will they? If 5000 people die today due to smog, the Government machinery will work overtime to attribute other causes to it. God help us. The Governments are worried more about their image, and people about bank balances.
          1. H
            Nov 13, 2017 at 12:06 pm
            I burn my crop and pollute the atmosphere my problem is solved let others die and go to Honble SC must intervene and stop this immediately.spolining others health is an act of terrorism
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