• A study was conducted in Punjab that showed pollution from stubble burning significantly reduced lung function and was particularly harmful to women in rural Punjab.



  • The concentration of PM2.5 (Particulate Matter-2.5) was found to increase more than twice between the two phases, from 100 g/m3 to 250 g/m3.
    • 5 refers to particles that have a diameter less than 2.5 micrometres (more than 100 times thinner than a human hair) and remain suspended for longer.
    • It causes respiratory problems and also reduces visibility. It is an endocrine disruptor that can affect insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity, thus contributing to diabetes.
  • Incidentally these are around 10-15 times the WHO (World Health Organisation) prescribed air quality standards though the permissible standards by India’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) are higher.
    • WHO: The annual average concentrations of PM2.5 should not exceed 5 µg/m3, while 24-hour average exposures should not exceed 15 µg/m3 more than 3 – 4 days per year.
    • CPCB: The annual average concentrations of PM2.5 should not exceed 40 µg/m3, while 24-hour average exposures should not exceed 60 µg/m3 more than 3 – 4 days per year.



  • India is the third largest wheat producer and there is pressure on farmers to grow more and more crops. Also, we are not tracking soil health. Soil biology is not discussed much.
  • When it comes to wheat residue burning in Punjab, there is a problem with manual labour. Migrant workers have stopped visiting the state. There is a mismatch between manual labour required and its availability, as most migrant workers leave in October- November and come back in May-June.
  • Though wheat straw is suitable for animals, it is problematic to store huge volumes of straw in one part of the land. It is also difficult to transport it back to villages, as additional cost is incurred. At the village level, there is also the problem of selling the husk due to the absence of a proper rate for fodder. Absence of market linkages is responsible for this.
  • Besides India, wheat stubble burning is an issue in China as well. This is primarily happening in rice-wheat system areas where farmers have to go for transplanting of rice manually after wheat. Small stubbles, if not managed properly, create obstacles to labourers in transplanting. Sometimes, stubbles accumulate in one area of the field and damage newly planted rice seedlings.
  • Burning of wheat stubble has been going on for decades. Earlier, bulk of the harvesting was done manually and then the stubble used to be pulled out or ploughed back into the field. With the increase in mechanised harvesting, longer stalks are left back. These require a longer time to decompose once ploughed back into the land. So, farmers tend to burn the crop residue and then plough the land.
  • The main problem behind crop burning is the rotational cropping system of rice and wheat. Farmers burn stubble as they have to quickly clear the fields for the next crop. Also, cost of fodder is too high or of converting the stubble into something else.


A study estimates that crop residue burning released 149.24 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), over 9 million tonnes of carbon monoxide (CO), 0.25 million tonnes of oxides of sulphur (SOX), 1.28 million tonnes of particulate matter and 0.07 million tonnes of black carbon. These directly contribute to environmental pollution, and are also responsible for the haze in Delhi and melting of Himalayan glaciers.

  • The heat from burning paddy straw penetrates 1 centimetre into the soil, elevating the temperature to 33.8 to 42.2 degree Celsius. This kills the bacterial and fungal populations critical for a fertile soil.
  • Burning of crop residue causes damage to other micro-organisms present in the upper layer of the soil as well as its organic quality. Due to the loss of ‘friendly’ pests, the wrath of ‘enemy’ pests has increased and as a result, crops are more prone to disease. The solubility capacity of the upper layers of soil have also been reduced.
  • According to a report, one tonne stubble burning leads to a loss of 5.5 kilogram nitrogen, 2.3 kg phosphorus, 25 kg potassium and more than 1 kg of sulfur — all soil nutrients, besides organic carbon.
  • A study revealed that 84.5 per cent people were suffering from health problem due to increased incidence of smog. It found that 76.8 per cent people reported irritation in eyes, 44.8 per cent reported irritation in nose, and 45.5 per cent reported irritation in throat.

Cough or increase in cough was reported by 41.6 per cent people and 18.0 per cent reported wheezing. Another study by the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru, estimated that people in rural Punjab spend Rs 7.6 crore every year on treatment for ailments caused by stubble burning.


In terms of efforts being made to reduce crop residue burning, the following approaches have been used by various state and central administrations and regulatory bodies so far:

  • Banning Crop Residue Burning: Crop residue burning was notified as an offence under the Air Act of 1981, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and various appropriate Acts. In addition, a penalty is being imposed on any offending farmer. Village and block-level administrative officials are being used for enforcement.
  • Detection and Prevention: A combination of remote sensing technology—use of satellite imagery—and a team comprising local officials–Sub-Divisional Magistrates, Tehsildars, Block Development Officers, Patwaris and village-level workers—is being used to detect occurrences of crop residue burning in real-time and to prevent them from taking place.
  • Establishment of a Marketplace for Crop Residue: Efforts are being made to increase the avenues for the alternate usage of paddy straw and other crop residue. For instance, paddy straw has a considerable calorific value, making it suitable for use as a fuel in biomass-based power plants. Similarly, it can be utilised for the preparation of bio-fuels, organic fertilisers and in paper and cardboard making industries. The strategy, broadly, is to assign a real economic and commercial value to the agricultural residue and making burning it an economic loss to the farmer.
  • Outreach and Public Awareness Campaigns: There are ongoing efforts to highlight the health effects of crop residue burning. It produces extremely high levels of toxic particulates, which affect the health of the people in the direct vicinity of the burning. In addition, efforts are also being made through kisan camps, trainings and workshops, apart from campaigns through various print media, televised shows and radio jingles, in informing farmers about the alternative usaegforcopersidue.
  • Subsidy on Agri-implements: The state governments, in collaboration with the Centre, has rolled out schemes for providing subsidy on mechanical implements that help tillage of soil, so that the crop residue can be retained in the soil, adding to its fertility, or alternately, collection of crop residue for putting it to commercial usage. However, the high cost of these implements means that in spite of subsidies, only a small number of farmers have access to these implements at the moment.
  • Crop Diversification: There are various ongoing, long-term efforts at diversification of cropping techniques, such that crop residue burning can be effectively prevented. This is being attempted through cultivation of alternate crops (apart from rice/paddy and wheat) that produce less crop residue and have greater gap periods between cropping cycles.


  • Each year, crop burning in the region is the start of the annual escalation of pollutant concentrations in the air, leading to massive winter pollution in the region. It is acerbated by the massive usage of firecrackers in the region, around Diwali, at the end of October. Followed by this, the weather patterns change, making temperatures drop and reducing the dispersion effect of pollutants. Burning of biomass (leaves, and other organic waste) and garbage through thousands of small fires lit for warmth, along with massive municipal solid waste landfill site fires only add to making the air full of toxic pollutants and unfit for breathing.
  • Educating the farming community and other related stakeholders is crucially important to bring them out of generational thinking that they are used to that the waste management is not their responsibility. It is even more important to empower them with technical as well as socioeconomic assistance. They should be educated about the advantage of reduced agrochemical cost due to the utilization of compost and the extra revenue they can receive through other type of recovery programs such as energy production.
  • The last, but perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle is the sectorial thinking of the curtailing of the crop residue burning issues only to agricultural sector and energy, even though it touches upon many other sectors, such as environment, economy, social aspects, and education. This sectorial thinking can be overcome by embracing nexus thinking, which promotes a higher-level integration that goes beyond the disciplinary boundaries.

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