Stubble Burning: Causes, Consequences, Remedies

Context: The Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority wrote to the chief secretaries of Punjab and Haryana stating that early burning of crop residue was taking place and urged them to address the issue “urgently”.

  • According to a SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research under the Central government) estimate, based on harmonising the INSAT-3, 3D and NASA satellite, the fire counts were around 42 on September 21, 2020.


  • Agricultural fires, in which farmers set fire to their fields after harvesting paddy, tend to begin around late September and peak around the last week of October by which time farmers have harvested most of their paddy.
  • Punjab’s fires tend to worsen Delhi’s pollution as particulate matter floats into the city, affecting the already polluted winter air.
  • Stubble burning by farmers in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh contributes anywhere from 17% to 78% to the particulate matter emission load in Delhi during winter.
  • With paddy harvesting picking up in Punjab, the Punjab government has ordered impounding of combine harvester machines operating without the Super Straw Management System (super SMS) in an attempt to curb stubble burning.
  • The use of super SMS with combine harvester helps to facilitate in situ management of crop residue, the super SMS attached to the rear of a combine harvester chops and uniformly spreads loose straw on the field. With this method, the farmers are not required to burn the straw before sowing the next crop.
  • Through the various efforts under the Central Sector Scheme on ‘Promotion of Agricultural Mechanization for In-Situ Management of Crop Residue in the State of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh & NCT of Delhi’ the paddy residue burning events have reduced by 15% and 41% in 2018 as compared to that in 2017 and 2016, respectively in all these States as per the satellite data.
  • Under the scheme, financial assistance @50% of the cost is provided to the farmers for purchase of in-situ crop residue management machines on individual ownership basis.
  • The financial assistance for establishment of Custom Hiring Centres of in-situ crop residue management machinery is @ 80% of the project cost.
  • Indian Council for Agricultural Research is implementing the scheme through Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs).
  • Stubble burning can be monitored by the Global Positioning System.
  • Institutes like PAU (Punjab Agricultural University) have developed machines like happy seeder, and are involved making them more useful by attaching more equipment.

Causes of Stubble Burning

  • To prepare the field quickly for the sowing of winter (Rabi) wheat.
  • Because of its little economic value as animal feed and other general uses, farmers are prompted to burn it on the field instead of incurring a high cost of collecting it.
  • Equipment like Rotavator which helps cut the stubble and mixes it with the soil and Happy Seeder are expensive.
  • Less number of biomass power plants operating in India.
  • Farmers continue with this practice as it involves no cost.

Impact of Stubble Burning

  • Paddy stubble burning in neighboring Haryana and Punjab is a major reason for affecting air quality in Delhi during the onset of winter.
  • Burning of crop residues emits traces of carbon dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide and particulates which affect human health.
  • Stubble burning leads to the loss of organic material for soil.

Happy Seeder

  • Happy seeder is a machine which does not require a stubble-free land to plant wheat. It is being made available to farmers at a subsidized cost so that farmers don’t resort to stubble burning.

Paddy Residue Vs Wheat Residue

  • Farmers use wheat residue as fodder for cattle and it’s only the stalk that is set on fire.
  • The paddy residue is not used as fodder as it’s unfit and hence farmers burn both the paddy stalk and straw close to autumn every year which is a key contributing factor of pollution causing breathing problems in the northern region.

Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA)

  • Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) is the Supreme Court-empowered body.
  • In exercise of the powers conferred by section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and in pursuance of the orders of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, EPCA has been set up by the central government.
  • It was constituted with the objective of protecting and improving the quality of the environment and preventing and controlling environmental pollution in the National Capital Region
  • The EPCA is also mandated to enforce Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) in the city as per the pollution levels.
  • The EPCA also assists the apex court in various environment-related matters in the Delhi NCR.


  • Under the plan scheme “Metropolitan Advisories for Cities for Sports and Tourism (Metropolitan Air Quality and Weather Services), Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), has introduced a major national initiative, “System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research” known as “SAFAR” for greater metropolitan cities of India to provide location specific information on air quality in near real time and its forecast 1-3 days in advance for the first time in India.
  • The system, first of its kind in the country, was developed indigenously in record time by Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, along with India Meteorological Department (IMD) and National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF). and operationalized by India Meteorological Department (IMD).
  • In addition to regular air quality parameters like PM2.5, PM10, Sulfur Dioxide, Ozone, Nitrogen Oxides, Carbon Monoxide, the system will also monitor the existence of Benzene, Toluene and Xylene.
  • This mission model project SAFAR is implemented in four cities of India – Delhi, Pune, Mumbai and Ahmedabad as an operational service.
  • Through SAFAR we can know the air quality not only over all city pollution but also location specific air quality.
  • The ultimate objective of the project is to increase awareness among general public regarding the air quality in their city well in advance so that appropriate mitigation measures and systematic action can be taken up for betterment of air quality and related health issues.
  • Recently, the government unveiled a state-of-the-art Air Quality and Weather Forecast System– SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting) at Chandni Chowk in Delhi.
  • The giant true colour LED display gives out real-time air quality index on 24×7 basis with colour coding along with 72-hour advance forecast.
  • SAFAR has been coming out with daily bulletins on Delhi’s air quality and it also has the percentage contribution of stubble burning in neighbouring States to Delhi’s air pollution. The contribution has ranged from 0% to 9% from October 9-16.
  • SAFAR takes into account the number of fires that is happening in Delhi’s neighbouring States from four different satellites (of which only two are Indian so that it will be more accurate) and calculates the amount of PM2.5 based on it.
  • This data is fed to a Chemistry Transport Forecast Model, which is basically a software, that will take into consideration different factors such as wind speed, temperature and rain among others to find how much of the PM2.5 generated would reach Delhi.

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