People of Delhi are suffering from smog which is leading to health problems and road accidents. The Governments of Punjab and Haryana have therefore banned the burning of paddy straw. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has also given the similar orders. However, the problem cannot be solved by such superficial measures.
Let us appreciate the fact that Punjab produces only 2 million tons of paddy straw whereas West Bengal produces 3.6 million tons. Yet, no paddy straw is burnt in West Bengal because labour is available easily. It is economic for farmers to supply paddy straw to paper mills or to use as animal feed. But In Punjab, labour is expensive and in short supply. Also, the time available for harvesting of paddy straw and sowing of wheat is 15 days. The farmers do not get labour in this short time and they prefer to burn the paddy straw. The farmers are burning straw because they do not have any other option of disposing of the straw.
No option to destroy Paddy Straw
It is good that the Government is concerned about the problem. But the policies made to resolve this problem are going to fail because the farmers have no alternatives for disposing the straw. The solution is for the Food Corporation of India (FCI) to announce a minimum support price for baled paddy straw, just like they have minimum support price for wheat and paddy so that the contractors will buy the paddy straw from the farmers, bale it and supply it to the FCI. The FCI can in turn supply this straw to Maharashtra and other deficit areas where the farmers need fodder for their animals or to the paper factories. The loss incurred by the FCI should be bound by the Government. The nation will be benefitted in many ways. We will get rid of smog; because farmers will no longer burn straw and they will have earnings by selling the same. It is necessary that Government makes a more constructive policy rather than just simply banning the burning of paddy straw.
Excessive emission of Carbon and Methane
A bigger problem is that the burning of straw is a small part of the air pollution. We are consuming large amount of electricity, which leads to burning of large amount of fossil fuels like coal, which is emitting a large amount of carbon and methane adding to global warming. We are building large Hydropower projects which emit more carbon dioxide and methane per unit of the electricity produce than even in coal plants. See report from the International Rivers on this point.
Similarly a report from National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) states that:
The emission of carbon dioxide from the reservoir of Tehri Dam is 2550 mg per m2, whereas methane emission is 24 mg per m2 per day. This is more dangerous than transient pollution of transpiration. (Report is available here page 15, para 5). For more details on harmful emission, we can read our earlier post here.
Therefore we must wake up. On the one hand we are too much concerned with the short term problem of smog from burning of straw. On the other hand, we are silent on our high consumption of electricity, which adds much more to global warming. We have to realize that, unending consumption of electricity is burden on this earth and we have to also change our lifestyles to make it more environmental friendly. It will be futile for the Government to stop the burning of paddy straw, while we want to continue to have more electricity consumption, more coal burning for electricity generation, and more hydropower reservoirs.