“Between 2016 and 2018, in Haryana there has been 41 per cent reduction in stubble burning, while in Punjab it has gone down by 10-12 per cent. In western Uttar Pradesh it has fallen by almost 25 per cent during the same period,” said Trilochan Mohapatra, secretary, Department of Agriculture Research and Education (DARE), and director general, Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR).
He said in Haryana and Punjab, around 4,500 villages had been declared “zero stubble-burning villages” in the past few years, while many more were in line to becoming so this year.
Farmers in Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh burn paddy straws to prepare the field for the next crop around October. The interval between the harvest of one and the sowing of the other is 10-12 days.
According to estimates, till a few years ago, 20-30 million tonnes of rice residue was burnt in Punjab and Haryana each season.
The stubble left after the harvest is on account of the extensive use of combine harvesters. The smoke its burning causes is a source of unhealthy air in North Indian cities.
However, stubble burning reduced last year in Haryana and parts of Uttar Pradesh. This, the government claimed, was owing to efforts to push crop-residue management machines, for which it gives a subsidy of 50-80 per cent.
In 2017-18, the Centre launched a special programme for crop-residue management, with a corpus of Rs 1,150 crore.
The Centre gives a 50 per cent subsidy to each farmer for purchasing straw-management equipment and it goes up to 80 per cent in case the machines are owned by cooperatives, farmers’ groups, or farmer-producer companies (FPOs) through custom hiring.
Farmers complain that after the subsidy scheme was announced, the cost of machines has gone up in several places, pointing towards collusion. Some experts said instead of giving costly machines to farmers, options such as bio-degradation of stubble should have been tried.
Machines including super SMS for combine harvesters, happy seeders, zero-tillers, rotavators and mulchers are sold to farmers at a subsidy of 50-80 per cent, which is borne by the Centre and state governments.