Stubble burning in northern India

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  • Published
    22nd Oct, 2018



  • After experiencing good to moderate air quality during summer and monsoon season, air pollution levels have again made a comeback with the air quality index (AQI) falling to very poor level.
  • Air pollution in Delhi is directly linked to the practice of stubble burning which takes place in surrounding states of Punjab and Haryana during the autumn season. The NASA, on its official website, stated that burning of crop residue in Punjab and Haryana has increased significantly from the beginning of Rabi season (October).


  • Stubble burning is a post-harvest practice used to clear fields of paddy crop residue by burning them. This practice mostly carried out in Punjab, Haryana and UP contributes solely to the grave winter pollution in the national capital.
  • During milling of paddy about 78% of weight is received as rice, broken rice and bran. Rest 22%of the weight of the paddy is husk. For farmers, burning the residue becomes the easiest way of disposing it owing to lack of time, equipments and awareness.


  • Stubble burning became a rampant practice during the Green revolution period when mass production of paddy was enabled in the plains of Punjab and Haryana.
  • Central government constituted the EPCA way back in 1998 in compliance to a Supreme Court order for protecting and improving the quality of the environment and preventing, controlling and abating environmental pollution.
  • As per the recent World Health Organization (WHO) 2018 pollution report, the Indian capital is among the world’s most polluted cities.


Causes behind stubble burning and its persistence:

  • Paucity of time forces farmers to burn residue to clear the farms early for preparing them for sowing of wheat in the Rabi season.
  • Farmers in this region have a traditional belief that burning crop residue will restore nutrients back to the soil.
  • Mechanization and employment guarantee schemes like MGNREGA have led to shortage of farm labourers to carry on seasonal migration from UP and Bihar to Punjab and Haryana, as was prevalent earlier. It has become more economical for farmers to burn stubble on field than getting it transportated for other uses.
  • Availability, affordability and awareness regarding crop residue management machines like ‘Happy seeder’ and ‘Super SMS attachment’ is inadequate.

Impact of stubble burning:

  • Health: Crop Residue Burning (CRB) has been identified as a major health hazard and a reason for breathing illness, irritation of eyes and respiratory tract diseases.
  • Air pollution: Stubble burning releases toxic pollutants like Methane, Carbon Monoxide (CO), Volatile organic compound (VOC) in air. Also, it leads to spike in Particulate Matter levels, contributing between 12 and 60 per cent of PM concentrations.
  • Smog: Clouds of ash and smoke from stubble burning can travel more than thousand kilometers aided by the Westerly winds coming from the Mediterranean region and create an obstinate and non-clearing clouds. Smog formed of the smoke can increase the levels of pollutants by manifolds in the air leading to poor visibility and causing accidents.
  • Soil nutrition: Burning husk on ground destroys the nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, sulphur and potassium from the topsoil, making it less fertile. Heat generated by stubble burning penetrates into the soil, leading to the loss of the moisture and useful microbes.
  • Economic loss: Crop residue holds high productive value in biofuel and fibre industry. Burning it deprives the farmers of higher economic returns.

Government steps taken and more needed

  • Penalty: Crop residue burning was notified as an offence under the Air Act of 1981, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and various appropriate Acts. In addition, a penalty is being imposed on any offending farmer.
  • GRAP: EPCA has rolled out the Graded Response Action Plan which includes efforts like banning construction activities, diesel generators, etc.
  • Technology: Remote sensing technology, use of satellite imagery and a team comprising local officials has been deployed to monitor incidences of crop burning in the states of Punjab and Haryana.
  • Procurement: Marketing and procurement of crop residue like husk is also being carried out in these states. Government should collaborate with cement, packaging, textiles, etc industries for husk/hull or stubble collection to use it proficiently. MGNREGA workers can be allowed to weed out crop stubble from paddy fields manually and mechanically.
  • Awareness: Youth clubs, Kisan camps, radio and television campaigns have been started to spread awareness on scientific crop residue management. Trained cadres of agriculture scientists, assistants and workers can be deployed to create awareness clarify doubts about machines and disseminate information on residue procurement.
  • Subsidising machines: Government has been providing subsidies ranging from 50-80% to farmers to buy crop residue disposal machines like happy seeders. Making crop residue management more convenient than burning by giving out Happy seeder machines on low rent to farmers.

Thus, stubble burning is not a new and surprising phenomenon and has been occurring since decades now. Considering the predictability of occurrence of problem and available initiatives in place, tackling the issue is the urgent need of the day given its severe consequences and associated problems. Proactive government intervention, aggressive media campaign and private industries should come together to the rescue of the farmer and the environment and solve the stubble burning issue in a time bound manner.

Learning Aid


Practice question:

Stubble burning in North India and its consequences is not a new issue, still the policymakers and officials fail to check the menace each year. Discuss. What steps have been taken by the government to tackle the problem? Also suggest some measures to solve the issue of stubble burning.


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