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The burning straw and the suffocating city

The city of Delhi is engulfed in dense smog since after Diwali. The air quality is so bad that the city s Chief Minister has taken to calling it  a ”gas chamber”. The pollution in the city has reached hazardous levels having serious health effects on every living being especially on children, the elderly and physically vulnerable people in the area and surrounding it.

It is alleged that paddy stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana is the major reason for worsening air quality in Delhi during the onset of winter. The paddy is cultivated in summers and harvested in November and the paddy stubble is burned to clear the field for sowing the next crop wheat.

While historically the rice was not a major crop grown in Punjab and Haryana but with green revolution and development of adequate irrigation along with assured minimum support price and secured market through government procurement. Consequently, farmers started growing wheat and paddy in rotation every year. This practice has disastrous impact on soil fertility, decline in water table, micronutrient deficiency and build-up of pests and diseases. As this practice is repeated every year, the state governments have tried unsuccessful attempts to bring in crop diversification to break the rice-wheat rotation. But the marketing problems with vegetables and fruits are roadblock s in crop diversification.

The issue is that wheat straw /residue can be used as fodder so it is not burned and is even traded across districts. It has a high economic value. But rice straw is non-palatable to animals and has little economic value as animal feed and other general uses so the farmers prefer burning it.

The soluti0n lies in finding the uses of rice straw as a source of safe and reliable biomass energy, use as organic manure, cardboard making and in packing industries and paper mills and etc.

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