Paddy straw: A hurdle in the clean air dream

The annual air pollution season has begun in the National Capital Region (NCR). Participating in the parliamentary standing committee on science and technology, environment, forests and climate change’s first review meeting of air pollution control measures, the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) said that the area under paddy cultivation in Haryana and Punjab increased this year and the generation of paddy straw is expected to be higher than 2021. But stubble fires this past month have been lower than 2021, possibly because of spells of rain in early October.

A higher generation of paddy straw is likely to mean an uptick in air pollution. Some experts worry that the narrow turnaround period might translate to more intense bursts of stubble fire. CAQM also apprised the House panel about several steps taken to tackle pollution: A staggered harvesting schedule; the use of in-situ stubble management (Pusa Bio-decomposer); ex-situ utilisation of paddy straw; and extension of storage facilities. Also, 11 thermal plants within 300 km of Delhi have been asked to co-fire paddy stubble biomass.

While the coming days will show whether these steps had an impact, the authorities must also listen to the farming community. Farmers told HT that the Pusa bio-decomposer takes 20 days to decompose the paddy straw and has led to pest infestation. They also want State help for diversifying into new crops. Air pollution is festering not just due to NCR’s geography, unfavourable meteorological conditions, and local pollutants, but also due to unresolved farm issues. These need to be tackled or else, the dream of clean air is set to go up in smoke, again.

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