Behind Punjab’s smoke screen, Madhya Pradesh’s stubble burning problem goes unnoticed

Image shows a man standing in a straw field behind a fire
  • Government efforts and stubble burning data suggest that India’s crop residue management plans are centred around Delhi’s air pollution problem, rather than tackling the problem of stubble burning across the country.
  • Madhya Pradesh saw 49,459 cases of stubble burning in the year 2020, while Punjab recorded 92,922 cases in the same year. Since then, Madhya Pradesh has remained second only to Punjab in the number of stubble burning cases.
  • However, the central government released over Rs. 3,062 crores from 2018 to 2023 to the state governments of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi for effective management of crop residue. In comparison, Madhya Pradesh did not receive such financial support from the central government.

This is the third story in a three-part series, where Mongabay-India examines the reasons for stubble burning in central India, the possible solutions to end stubble burning and also analyses the efforts from the government. Read the first and second stories to understand the larger issue.

For the past few decades, crop residue burning has been the grim news story of the state of Punjab. The environmental issue that brings the crop residue burning to limelight, is the depleting air quality and air pollution in Delhi and National Capital Region. With the majority of efforts from the central and state governments focussed on dealing with crop residue burning in Punjab, the central province of India, Madhya Pradesh, that has been slowly rising to the second position in the list, gets left behind.

Government efforts suggest that India’s crop residue management plans are devised and designed around Delhi’s air pollution problem, instead of a nation-wide proactive measure targeted towards mitigation.

To address Delhi’s air pollution problem, a Central Sector Scheme ‘Promotion of Agricultural Mechanization for In-Situ Management of Crop Residue’, is being implemented since 2018-19. The scheme provides financial support to Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi farmers to deal with their crop residue. The Centre, under this scheme, released more than Rs. 3,062 crores, to the state governments of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi for a five-year period (from 2018-19 to 2022-23), towards the effective management of stubble. Of the total amount, almost half has been allotted to Punjab alone. However, Madhya Pradesh does not get this level of support from the Centre.

Madhya Pradesh (MP) witnessed 49,459 crop burning cases in 2020, whereas Punjab recorded 92,922 cases in the same year, and since then MP has remained second in terms of crop burning incidents after Punjab. In the year 2020 and 2021, Haryana witnessed 9,350 cases and 6,987 cases of crop burning respectively and received Rs. 693 crores from the Centre during the period 2018-2022, to tackle the crop burning problem.

Cropland fires in MP increased almost tenfold from 454 in 2002 to 4,359 in 2016, at an average annual rate of 64%. From 4,359 in 2016, cropland fires in the state rose to 49,459 in the year 2020. The agricultural residue fires were high in the rabi harvesting period (March to May), as compared to that in the kharif harvesting period (October to December).

Image shows men standing in a burning straw field
Farmers burning rice residue ahead of the farming season. Photo by 2011CIAT/NeilPalmer/Flickr

Talking about MP’s efforts to promote agricultural mechanisation for the management of crop residue, Rajiv Chaudhary from the Directorate of Agricultural Engineering’s said that the state government had sent a proposal to the Centre but since it was not approved, the state started its own scheme to promote the farming machines. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan also requested the Union Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Minister, Narendra Singh Tomar in 2021, that the state be included in the scheme run by the Centre.

Biologist Deepak Acharya, who has a Ph.d. in Botany and has researched Madhya Pradesh’s agriculture for many years now, opined that since stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana affects Delhi, the government responds to it quickly. According to him, the wind direction and weather conditions of Madhya Pradesh and also the absence of a major metro city in the state, are some of the factors why people don’t feel the impact of this increasing problem.

“Based on the available data from MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) and VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite), we are able to identify a notable increase in stubble-burning incidents in Madhya Pradesh over the last few years. The number of fire points (VIIRS) has been consistently rising, suggesting a significant escalation in agricultural fires during this period,” said Satyam Verma, an assistant professor at the Department of Environmental Science at Dr. Harisingh Gour Central University.

Verma has authored a paper on Madhya Pradesh’s increasing stubble burning cases. “Madhya Pradesh is currently second only to Punjab in stubble burning and this gap between MP and Punjab is closing very quickly,” he added.

Incidents of stubble burning in Madhya Pradesh between 2013 and 2022. Graph by Satyam Verma. Source: NASA FIRMS

Watch: From pollution to power, what stops paddy stubble from becoming the fuel of choice

Measures announced, but not implemented

Albeit there is no targeted study on stubble burning’s impact on air pollution and air quality index (AQI) in Madhya Pradesh, the state government, in its orders, admitted that stubble burning is negatively impacting the AQI. The government in its 2017 notification said, “It has been observed that indiscriminate burning of leftover straw/stubble in open fields after harvesting crops is resulting in a widespread air pollution in the whole state of Madhya Pradesh resulting in various kinds of environmental problems.”

The notification also stated provisions of penalties on farmers in case of stubble burning. The state government comes up with the same order of imposing a penalty of Rs. 2,500 to Rs. 15,000 on any person found burning stubble in an open field, every year. The fines are prescribed by the National Green Tribunal and are also imposed in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. However, unlike the three other states, the Madhya Pradesh government has not imposed the fines with much seriousness, say experts.

“The MP government issued directions of penalties and the District Collectors were also asked to monitor the farm fires in their respective districts and bookcases, but there was no strict action,” shared Manish Sharma, coordinator of Jabalpur-based organisation Nagrik Upbhokta Margdarshak Manch.

While Punjab leads in the number of incidents of stubble burning, Madhya Pradesh is rapidly coming a close second. Photo by 2011CIAT/NeilPalmer/Flickr.

Increasing awareness and promoting efficient residue management

In 2019, the Supreme Court ordered the Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh state governments to not punish the farmers and stated that punishments cannot be the solution. Instead, the governments should assist the farmers with basic amenities and increase awareness about stubble burning.

Punjab has been running awareness campaigns for some years now, and these are bearing some results, but the farmers of Madhya Pradesh have not seen any such campaign, apart from news reports of government notifications against stubble burning.

“In 2015, the NGT’s central zone had asked the MP government to start an awareness programme. At that time, the state pollution control board started some work but nothing has been done after that,” Sharma said.

Verma also advocates raising awareness among farmers about the detrimental effects of stubble burning and the urgent need to adopt sustainable alternatives. The key, he believes, lies in persuading farmers to embrace environment-friendly practices that would help them break free from the vicious cycle of burning agricultural residues.

Production of wheat and rice in Madhya Pradesh during 2000 to 2021. Graph by Satyam Verma. Source: Reserve Bank of India.

“The government can provide financial incentives to farmers for adopting modern machinery and technologies that facilitate efficient residue management,” he suggested. Verma acknowledged that Madhya Pradesh Government is giving a 50% subsidy on agricultural machinery used in crop residue management.

“However, the increasing fire points on the ground and the growth in rice and wheat production underscored the need for more intensified efforts in this domain,” he said.

Increasing crop production can have implications for the stubble-burning problem. As the production increases, there may be more crop residues left in the fields after harvesting, including stubble from rice and wheat crops. “If not managed properly, this residue becomes a potential source for stubble burning incidents. Therefore, it becomes crucial to implement effective crop residue management strategies to handle the increasing volume of crop residues and reduce the reliance on burning practices,” Verma added.

This story was first published in Mongabay-Hindi.


Banner image: Government efforts suggest that India’s crop residue management plans are devised and designed around Delhi’s air pollution problem, instead of a nation-wide proactive measure targeted towards mitigation. Photo by Jaskarn SH SD/Wikimedia Commons.

Exit mobile version