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Crop burning raises risk of respiratory illness threefold, says IFPRI study

Topics Covered:

  1. Conservation and pollution related issues.


Crop burning raises risk of respiratory illness threefold, says IFPRI study


What to study?

For Prelims and Mains: Crop burning- why, concerns, effects on environment and health, their regulation and the need for a comprehensive policy on this.


Context: The burning of agricultural residue — a contributor to north India’s winter pollution — increases the risk of respiratory illnesses threefold for those who experience it. It may also be responsible for an annual $30 billion (approximately ₹2 trillion) loss in terms of days of work lost in States affected by crop burning, according to a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The findings were based on a study of the health records of 250,000 people in Haryana (which sees a spike in crop burning episodes in winter), and Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, which don’t see similar burning episodes. The study is to appear in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Epidemiology.


Highlights of the study:

  • In Haryana, 5.4% of surveyed individuals reported suffering from ARI (Acute Respiratory Infection) whereas the reported ARI symptoms in southern States was only 0.1%.
  • Among those who reported suffering from ARI, 83% also reported receiving treatment for ARI at a private or public medical facility.
  • Whereas high-intensity fire exposure was virtually absent in south India, 17.5% of individuals in Haryana lived in a district where 100 or more fires per day were observed by the satellite.



For about a decade now, Delhi has been complaining about the practice of stubble burning, holding it responsible for the abysmal air quality in the capital in winter. In 2013, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) issued a directive to Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, asking them to ban stubble burning.

The Environment Ministers of these States as well as top officials at the Centre declared a “zero tolerance” policy on the burning of stubble, which has been estimated to contribute anywhere from 7% to 78% of the particulate matter-emission load in Delhi during winter.


What is stubble burning?

Stubble burning is a common practice followed by farmers to prepare fields for sowing of wheat in November as there is little time left between the harvesting of paddy and sowing of wheat. Stubble burning results in emission of harmful gases such carbon diaoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide along with particulate matter.


Concern of the Farmers: Why stubble burning?

  • Even though farmers are aware that the burning of straw is harmful to health, they do not have alternatives for utilising them effectively.
  • The farmers are ill-equipped to deal with waste because they cannot afford the new technology that is available to handle the waste material.
  • Experts say that with less income due to crop damage, farmers are likely to be inclined to light up their fields to cut costs and not spend on scientific ways of stubble management.
  • It costs Rs 1,500-3,000 per acre for stubble management, depending on the equipment and method.


Alternative solutions that can avoid Stubble Burning:

  • There is great potential for making investments in paddy straw-based power plants which can help avoid stubble burning to a large extent and also create employment opportunities.
  • Incorporation of crop residues in the soil can improve soil moisture and help activate the growth of soil microorganisms for better plant growth.
  • Convert the removed residues into enriched organic manure through composting.
  • New opportunities for industrial use such as extraction of yeast protein can be explored through scientific research.


Need of the hour:

  • Unless Financial assistance is to be provided by the Centre for boosting farm mechanisation, it is difficult to completely stop stubble burning.
  • States needs to make alternative arrangements for consumption of paddy straw into the soil as per the directions of the NGT.


Sources: the hindu.

Mains Question: What is stubble burning? What measures can be undertaken so that stakeholders are persuaded against undertaking such a practice? Discuss.