Stubble Burning – A threat to the environment?

This article has been written by Plash Mittal. Plash is a student of BCom LLB at University Institute of Legal Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh.

Stubble burning is the deliberate setting fire of the straw stubble that remains after wheat and other grains have been harvested. The carbon (C) component in stubbles is lost by burning and that the process of burning stubbles even occasionally, seriously affects the organic carbon levels of the soil. Around 80 per cent of the C in standing stubble will return to the atmosphere as CO2. Losses of carbon as CO2 to the atmosphere through burning are often only slightly greater than through natural decomposition, but they are of course immediate.

Advantages of burning

  • Cheap
  • Quick and easy
  • Can assist weed, insect and disease control
  • Reduced nitrogen tie-up

Disadvantages of burning

  • Loss of nutrients
  • Loss of carbon
  • Impact on soil microbes and fauna
  • Reduction in soil structure (soil aggregate stability)
  • Increase in erosion (wind and water)
  • Can increase acidity over time


After a bumper paddy crop, the fields are on fire in Punjab and Haryana, polluting the air with hazardous particles. Even the atmosphere of Delhi is witnessing a thick blanket of smog. The resultant haze and low-hanging clouds of smoke, exacerbated by low temperature and slow wind speed are posing serious risks to people with breathing troubles, allergies, asthma and other respiratory disorders 

A major pollutant

Burning straw leads to increase in particulate matter (PM) in the air. The burning causes release of acids like sulfates, nitrates, metals in the air and could cause severe health problems. According to the experts, burning of straw burns out 1 lakh tonnes of nitrogen, 0.5 lakh tonnes of phosphorus and 2.5 lakh tonnes of potash in the soil over the 29-30 lakh hectares in which paddy is grown annually.


Ban remains on paper

In Jalandhar district, where 1.6 lakh hectares were under paddy this season, 80% of the farmers burn their crop residue to free their land for the next crop. Haryana Space Application Centre (HARSAC) in a survey found that farmers in Haryana burnt 80% of the stubble for paddy and wheat. After the government banned stubble burning in 2014, farmers reduced it up to 14%.


Political will missing

Lack of action is responsible for the continued stubble burning. The farmers are taking advantage of leniency and setting crop residue on fire without considering the threat to human lives or soil health.


The best use of stubble is as animal feed by conversion of stubble into goat fodder. Converting stubble into milk and meat will add more value than using it as fuel. Humans cannot digest straw at all, but cattle, sheep, goats have four-stage stomachs that digest up to half of it. Goats have the toughest stomachs and best digestion rates. Treatment with urea, alkalis or molasses can improve the digestibility and calorific value of straw.

Zero-till farming is another alternative which sows wheat seeds without removing the stubble. Tractor-mounted happy seeders, rotavators, and straw-reapers simultaneously cuts rice stubble and sows wheat seeds, depositing the cut stubble on top as mulch.

The farmers should be encouraged to adopt conservation farming systems. Alternative options to manage stubble residues, particularly in high rainfall areas, are continuing to evolve.

An all-round aggressive approach is needed on behalf of the government, scientists and farmers in the form of adoption of ‘straw management technologies’.


The Existing Law

There is no specific law in Punjab to ban straw stubble burning, but every Deputy Commissioner (DC) in Punjab has the power to ban this under section 144 of the CrPC. The practice, however, continues right under their nose. The DC also has the power under 188 of the IPC to punish violators but that rarely happens. Under the law, a violator may be punished for up to six months jail and imposed a fine of Rs 1,000.

Meanwhile in Haryana, the environment department had banned the burning of agriculture waste in the open fields under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981. Till date, prosecution action has been filed against 32 farmers in the special environment courts in Kurukshetra and Faridabad by the Haryana Pollution Control Board for burning paddy in the open fields.

Need for New Law

Like Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Act of 2009, which was enacted to save depleting groundwater and under which no farmer can sow paddy before June 10 or June 15, a similar law is needed to ban paddy straw burning.









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