The Clock Is Running Out On North India’s Next Big Crisis


To curb stubble burning throughout the winter months, India and its states might want to act swiftly this 12 months. The unprecedented rain in northern India in early July broken freshly sown paddy and delayed sowing in states equivalent to Punjab and Haryana. Nationally, over 16 per cent much less space was coated below paddy as of the primary week of July 2023 in comparison with the corresponding interval final 12 months. Delayed sowing solely means a shorter window to reap and handle crop residue in already time-pressed states like Punjab, the place farmers domesticate wheat instantly after paddy harvesting. This perceived crop loss initially of the Kharif season will seemingly affect farmers’ intent to put money into zero-burn crop residue administration (CRM) later within the 12 months. India lately revised its CRM pointers to facilitate well timed residue administration. However can it deliver down farm fires in Kharif 2023?

Since 2018, India’s CRM scheme has largely centered on subsidising in-situ machines to deal with paddy stubble within the discipline itself, just like the Tremendous Seeder. Whereas a couple of central insurance policies have inspired the usage of crop biomass as gasoline for industrial boilers, bio-CNG manufacturing and co-firing in coal-fired energy vegetation, they’ve seen little progress within the final 5 years because of the underdeveloped provide chain ecosystems and large prices concerned in biomass assortment.

This 12 months, for the primary time, there was a shift in desire in direction of ex-situ strategies below the CRM scheme, which contain treating farm waste off-site for power manufacturing. The large plan is to ascertain biomass provide chain methods below the bilateral settlement between industries utilizing biomass and farmer teams. The centre and state governments will collectively present monetary assist of 65 per cent for equipment and gear to farmer teams, and the remaining 25 per cent and 10 per cent shall be contributed by the trade and farmer teams, respectively. This renewed curiosity in ex-situ strategies opens up a possibility for India’s northwestern states to attain twin advantages — scale back carbon and air pollutant emissions and develop options for fossil fuels.

Listed below are 4 methods for northwestern states to align their motion plan with the CRM pointers rapidly and obtain zero stubble burning.

First, states ought to publish a database of business end-users and their annual crop biomass demand. In response to the CEEW’s estimates, delivering one tonne of biomass bale from the farm to an end-user website situated 15-30 km away prices Rs 1,500-2,500, and this value will increase with distance. Decentralised sourcing of biomass inside a radius of 5-10 km of the end-user website can significantly scale back interim storage and transportation prices. Entry to a periodically up to date state-wise database may also help optimise biomass storage and logistics. On condition that operationalising the provision chain would take almost 3-6 months, such an data repository can facilitate farm teams in figuring out and initiating partnerships with industries. Apart from, this may enable state actors to prioritise in-situ machines just like the Tremendous Seeder in areas the place there’s a deficit in potential biomass end-users.

Second, institute a state-level committee to control the costs of crop residue-based merchandise. The minimal inexpensive value for sourcing biomass would range throughout the end-user classes. Whereas massive gamers like energy vegetation can afford costs as excessive as Rs 8,000-10,000 per tonne of biomass pellets (produced from 1.3 tonnes of residue by means of densification), industries and bio-CNG vegetation want bales at INR 2,500 or decrease. In response to the newest CRM pointers, the price of collected biomass shall be mutually agreed upon by the farmer group/aggregator and the trade primarily based in the marketplace situations. Nevertheless, setting a worth ground for uncooked biomass and biomass-based merchandise will guarantee a minimal viable worth for farmers to keep away from stubble burning. Related initiatives are already in progress with the Energy Ministry saying plans to benchmark biomass pellet costs and with Haryana prone to notify a typical decided fee for paddy straw procurement this 12 months.

Third, create a pooled fund from the environmental compensation cess collected for a sustained contribution in direction of the CRM scheme. One of many main modifications launched within the pointers this 12 months is that the share of fund contribution from the centre has been diminished from 100 per cent to 60 per cent. The rules encourage states to contribute the remaining share. Because of this for each 4,500 MT biomass assortment depot deliberate below the scheme, the state must contribute Rs 60 lakh. To satisfy Punjab’s goal to devour round 4.7 million MT of paddy straw below ex-situ strategies in FY23-24, the state must funds almost Rs 630 crore. Earmarking a pooled fund can guarantee a continued useful resource in direction of infrastructure growth for crop biomass processing.

Lastly, publicise the brand new CRM interventions. The revised pointers launched on 1 July 2023 had an formidable timeline of seven July 2023 for initiating the bilateral settlement with trade and farmer teams and putting orders for equipment procurement. With solely 20+ outstanding trade gamers lively within the surplus biomass-producing state like Punjab, there ought to be a focused outreach technique to onboard trade gamers and farmer teams extra rapidly. That is essential since such financial-assistance schemes have noticed only a few takers historically because of the skinny revenue margin within the biomass sector. As an illustration, the Central Air pollution Management Board’s one-time financing scheme for organising biomass-based pellet vegetation acquired solely a complete of eight functions by mid-2023 since its launch in October 2022.

The stubble-burning season will quickly be upon us, inflicting a large surge in air air pollution once more. This 12 months, each the centre and states have initiated a collaborative plan of motion initially of the season. Via proactive planning and well timed motion, Indian states can higher handle farm fires and maintain the clear skies witnessed in July year-round.

(Kurinji Selvaraj is a Programme Affiliate on the Council on Power, Atmosphere, and Water [CEEW], an impartial not-for-profit coverage analysis establishment.)

Disclaimer: These are the private opinions of the creator.

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