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Magnitude of stubble problem grows larger: Govt review

Stubble generation in 2022-23 will increase by nearly 1.37 million tonnes (mt) in states adjoining the Delhi-National Capital Region and well over 6 mt may go up in smoke despite numerous measures planned for stubble management, as per the latest government review.

Stubble burning is considered a key contributor to air pollution in Delhi-NCR. Paddy straw burning is practised widely in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to clear the field for the next crop sowing, especially during October-November.

In the review held on Friday, environment minister Bhupender Yadav singled out Punjab, expressing his ‘dissatisfaction’ with the state’s preparedness.

“The state government had not planned adequately for management of almost 5.75 mt of stubble which is a huge gap and is likely to have an adverse impact on the air quality in Delhi and NCR region,” the minister said at the review, according to a statement put out later by the Press Information Bureau.The picture is, however, equally worrying in Haryana as well, data accessed by ET shows. Total paddy stubble generation from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh (UP) is expected to touch 27.66 mt in 2022-23 against 26.29 mt in 2021-22, as per data shared by state governments in recent reviews held by the environment ministry, ET has gathered. This is 1.37 mt higher than the stubble generated in 2021. It has also been estimated that stubble management plans will probably address up to 20.55 mt of stubble generated in the key states of Punjab and Haryana through both in-situ and ex-situ methods. About 17.70 mt of stubble was managed in the two states last year.

However, that would still leave an estimated 6.44 mt of stubble in Punjab and Haryana alone that may end up getting burnt in fields between October and November this year. The data for stubble management in UP was not available.

The figure may increase if the in-situ methods – which involve bio-decomposers and crop residue management (CRM) machines – are unable to address the significant 11.79 mt of stubble earmarked for this type of management. These figures stand against a series of measures that are underway.

These range from deploying more CRM machines to stubble collection and stubble pelletisation efforts by state-owned enterprises and through other Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives beside stubble use by bio-ethanol plants, biomass power, paper and pulp industry. Though several of these steps have shown an encouraging uptick, the quantum of paddy stubble generated is a clear challenge, more so this year as the overall area under paddy cultivation has increased significantly in Punjab and Haryana between 2021 and 2022.

ET gathers that recent government reviews – based on state inputs and data – indicate that the area under paddy cultivation in Punjab has risen to 31.44 lakh hectares (ha) in 2022 from 29.61 lakh ha in 2021. The basmati variety – its stubble is used up for fodder and hence not burnt – is down to 4.36 lakh ha in 2022 from 4.89 lakh ha in 2021, while non-basmati varieties have grown to 27.08 lakh ha in 2022, from 24.72 lakh ha in 2021.

Consequently, overall straw generated in Punjab is expected to touch 19.99 mt in 2022 against 18.74 mt in 2021.

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