A paddy issue

November 17, 2019

It’s increasingly becoming a cause for serious concern. Every year, around this time, having freshly harvested the paddy (rice crop), farmers set fire to the stubble in order to clear the fields. The exercise is obviously meant to avoid the costs that uprooting the straw and preparing the field may incur. For the farmer, it’s a cheap alternative, but what does it cost the environment?

In recent years, several parts of the Punjab — on both sides of the border — have experienced a dense pall of smog that stays put for a good few weeks, causing ailments of lungs, eyes and throat. Besides, the air you now inhale smells like ash. This smog is said to be a consequence of a drop in mercury combined with spiked air pollution levels. And burning the crops only makes matters worse. It’s no sweet November for Lahoris any longer!

The situation calls for an urgent intervention by the authorities. Just outlawing the activity won’t help. In neighbouring India, for instance, the governments of Punjab and Haryana have announced a bonus of IR2,500 per acre for small and marginal farmers who are yet to start the activity. Uttar Pradesh (UP), which faces a similar problem, has decided to set up biofuel plants in each district, where farmers can sell their waste stubble for use in power generation. The idea is to incentivise the farmer rather than slap a punitive ban.

Photos by Rahat Dar

Punjab's paddy crops and their cost to environment