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FARMERS VERSUS THE STATE: A CROP BURNING LIABILITY UNDER ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS

INTRODUCTION:

India is an agricultural country and agricultural sector being the highest contributor to the GDP of India makes India an agro-economy. Agriculture, environment and economy go hand in hand as crop burning residue (CRB) also known as stubble burning poses a serious threat to our environment and air quality as burning of crop residue releases large amounts of black carbon which raises mortality rates and reduces agricultural output, poses a severe danger to the environment, soil fertility, human health and well-being, and air quality. Before planting a new crop, farmers burn cultivated fields to remove garbage, weeds, and stubble. This process is known as stubble burning. Though quick and inexpensive, this approach is very unsustainable since it depletes soil fertility and generates enormous amounts of the particulate pollutant black carbon. Black carbon (BC) is a short-lived pollutant that contributes significantly to global warming (CO2). Unlike other greenhouse gas emissions, BC is easily removed from the environment and may be completely eradicated if emissions are stopped.

Crop Burning is such a big environmental issue which is addressed by the state and state appeal to all the farmers to stop this crop residue burning and through the National Green tribunal, the states of Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab have banned crop residue burning and also under Air and Pollution Control Act of 1981 and section 188 of IPC, Crop Burning Residue has been declared as a crime.

A CROP BURNING LIABILITY UNDER ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS

The season of smog, as it has come to be known, has people all over the world preparing. The time of year when autumn is approaching and when farmers burn their fields to make place for a new crop, creating dangerous smoke clouds in several countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), enormous tracts of agricultural land that are set on fire each year add to the air pollution that kills 7 million people each year, including 650,000 children[1]. One cannot ignore the effects of crop burning as the gas that it releases i.e black carbon is a hazardous pollutant even in small amounts. Millions of people die prematurely each year as a result of PM2.5, which raises the chance of dying from heart and lung disease, stroke, various malignancies, and other conditions. Additionally, because air pollution harms respiratory health, it might make people more susceptible to COVID-19. Black carbon does not only have effect on human health but its also fatal to environment as though black carbon is a short-lived climate pollutant, which means that it only lingers in the atmosphere for a few days or weeks, it has a 460–1,500 times greater influence on global warming than carbon dioxide.

Burning crop residue compromises India’s health and worsens the country’s air quality. Despite limitations and other government efforts, this strategy is still frequently employed. Burning agricultural waste was shown to cause 44,000–98, 000 premature deaths year between 2003 and 2019 due to particulate matter exposure, with Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh accounting for 67-90% of these fatalities. Due to a combination of a relatively high downwind population density, agricultural output, and the cultivation of residue-intensive crops, Punjab alone are responsible for 40% of India’s annual air quality impacts from residue burning.

Recently Delhi High Court in Air Pollution in Delhi vs Union Of India [2] revealed that burning of agricultural waste, especially plant residue and stubble during the harvest of the Kharif and Rabi crops, is a significant contributor to the National Capital Region’s (NCR) and Delhi deteriorating air quality (“stubble burning”). According to research, every tonne of dry residue burned produces 0.747 kg of PM 10 and 0.672 kg of PM 2.5 particulates[3], which are released into the atmosphere.

The government of various states have not only imposed bans on Crop Burning Residue but also imposed fines on all farmers who are caught doing stubble burning. Not only this, special Committees have been established by the States to stop, monitor, and regulate the burning of agricultural waste. District Collectors now have the authority to file legal actions, including criminal charges against defaulters. The States, in particular Rajasthan, are building up remote sensing devices to identify the locations where such residue is burned Government to promote farmers to stop this crop burning launched National Policy for Management of Crop Residue which gave farmers a list of machines which could be used to manage crop residues effectively and government under this programme, payments of Rs 1,151.80 crore over two years have been paid to states including Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and the National Capital Region.

ANALYSIS

If one looks from the perspective of farmers , crop burning is the best method for them to increase their soil fertility and also to prepare their field for sowing the next winter crop. There have been many incidents wherein farmers sat on protests to defy government decision of banning crop burning. Out of all the states who practice crop burning, the massive contributor being the state of Punjab. Farmers of Punjab, in order to stop crop burning, demand compensation for the costs associated with other crop residue disposal strategies, from the government. It would be wrong to say that government is not doing anything to stop crop burning as Concrete measures like launching awareness programmes, giving farmers agricultural tools on subsidies, and adopting some new scientific techniques like decomposer spray are being used to minimise stubble burning in the State. However, the government fails to understand that The expenditures associated with maintaining machinery are too much for farmers. Despite the subsidies for straw management equipment, small and marginal farmers are unable to buy or rent the equipment due to rising labour and fuel expenses which in turn lessens the advantages of subsidies. As far as the incentive offered by the Punjabi government, which guarantees to pay Rs 100 each produced quintal of paddy to farmers who don’t burn paddy residue, The Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) has examined this issue and had come to a conclusion  the cost of stubble removal in the MSP may not be a viable option as it will not help those farmers who are not receiving the benefit of MSP and will also create price inflation.

Crop burning was cited as the primary cause of Delhi’s haze and declining air quality. When crop burning is practiced, the city gets covered in a thick brown cloud with toxins throughout these months (october-november) that is 50 times more than what is considered safe. Crop burning was responsible for about 50% of Delhi’s pollution[4]. Despite various efforts, the farmers seem to be stubborn and reluctant on continuing with this crop burning practice but they fail to understand that it may be profitable for them in the present where burning fields amount to Rs 1000 and going by the machinery method as encouraged by the government would cost them Rs 10,000 or more but in the long run, its detrimental as crop burning takes away the nutrients from the soil making it less fertile and leave alone pollution, the gases released from crop burning increases the risk of respiratory diseases.

CONCLUSION:

One could come to a conclusion that crop burning and related environmental crisis is a annual issue which is a result of seasonal slower winds, coal-fired power plant smoke, and hundreds of fires across Punjab and Haryana’s agricultural fields, two states northwest (upwind) of New Delhi. In this area, which is a major agricultural producer, farmers cultivate wheat in the winter and rice in the summer and burn fields later on to prepare their fields for next sowing seasons. Government has implemented various schemes like National Policy for Management of Crop Residues (NPMCR), given incentives to farmers, educated them but still are not able to achieve the goals of completely stopping the practice of crop burning. According to me, If policymakers want to put an end to stubble burning, they must put aside their political differences and develop a plan that takes farmers’ inability to pay for straw management into account. The Supreme Court’s 2019 directive, which offers farmers who don’t burn paddy straw cash aid of Rs 100 per quintal, is a very good place to start. Thus we all should work towards saving our environment and stop this practice of crop burning.

Submitted by :

Dristya Swaroop Saxena

3rd Year, BA LLB

Symbiosis Law School, Noida


[1] Helena Molin, Toxic blaze: the true cost of crop burning, United Nations Environment Programme Publications (2021)

[2] W.P.(C), 1346 of 2015

[3] Data by Pollution Control Board

[4] Hannah Ellis- Peterson, Delhi’s smog blamed on crop fires – but farmers say they have little choice, the guardian.com, 2019.

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