How a law passed by Punjab govt in 2009 has caused the current pollution crisis in Delhi

Until a few years ago, stubble burning’s smoke was confined to Punjab. The delay in burning stubble due to a law passed by Punjab govt in 2009 is why Delhi is enveloped in smoke today

Twitter/Gurpreet Singh
Twitter/Gurpreet Singh

NH Web Desk

Until a few years ago, when farmers in Punjab burnt the remnants of the rice crops in their fields in preparation for sowing wheat, the smoke from such fires was confined to Punjab. The delay in burning stubble is why Delhi is enveloped in smoke today.

Earlier, the smoke was confined to Punjab. According to a report in The Sunday Guardian, the delay in burning stubble is due to pressure from Punjab government on farmers for corporate gains.

Punjab government passed the Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act in 2009. According to this law, farmers have to stop sowing rice in April and have to wait until June-mid to do so. Haryana has also copied Punjab and passed a similar law. Between sowing, germination, and harvest, rice has a 4-month period and the restraint on germination of the grains meant that the crops would now be harvested and cleared only in October, by which time the course of the wind changes.

The change in the direction of the wind, the Butterfly Effect caused Delhi to choke when the law was implemented and rippled into a massive problem for people in Delhi. Before this law was passed, the problem in Delhi was limited to vehicular and industrial pollution, apart from smoke from bonfires in winter, and there were no reports of the entire metropolitan area being enveloped by smoke, reports Ecologise.

Punjab government had argued that this law was passed to preserve groundwater; saying the rice fields were depleting groundwater by not only using too much water but also losing a significant quantity of water to evaporation.

However, this is debatable. According to the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), rice fields contribute to recharging the water table and very little is lost to evaporation. The data from Uttar Pradesh in IWMI’s analysis show that rice fields in the state contributed to increasing the level of the water table, thus supporting the claim that water in rice fields replenishes the aquifers, reported The Sunday Guardian.

The group that has been primarily responsible for exerting pressure to move away from growing rice in the name of “crop diversification” is the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which operates out of the American embassy; and aids corporates very often. The Monsanto Company was an American agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation; which is currently providing GMO seeds to Punjab government and has a research institute promulgating research on creating maize seeds.

According to a report in The Sunday Guardian, India’s surplus food grain supply is a sore fact for Monsanto and other proponents of GMO food, who want others to believe that the world is going to battle a serious shortage of supply if GMO plants were not encouraged. In 2012, the then Punjab Chief Minister asked Monsanto to set up a research centre for creating maize seeds and announced plans to reduce the area under the cultivation of rice by around 45% in order to grow maize.

The new law reducing the time period during which farmers are permitted to grow rice has further accentuated this problem. Farmers have now developed their own method of crop diversification by growing multiple varieties of rice and staggering the time of sowing these varieties over a period of two months beginning in April.

Monsanto now offers the replacement of rice by its GMO crops as a solution that will increase the level of subsoil water, but its fertilisers and pesticides have accumulated in the ground over the years and this has led to poor retention of moisture in the soil, leading farmers to pump excessive amounts of underground water.

Today, farmers burn the residual straw from the cultivation of rice as it is the cheapest method of clearing the fields. A ban on such burning will destroy the livelihood of small farmers and give way to industrial farming with a few large corporations such as Monsanto owning all the land and resources, The Sunday Guardian said.

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Published: 05 Nov 2019, 5:02 PM