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Delay in the transplantation of paddy in Punjab will not add to air pollution due to stubble burning, an Expert Committee has submitted before the National Green Tribunal (NGT). This comes at a time when the great smog of North India and the hazardous Air Quality Index in the North Indian Plains has triggered a nationwide debate on the effects of stubble burning on air pollution.
The report was submitted by a four-member committee comprising representatives of the Central Pollution Control Board, Punjab State PCB and two Scientists.
The committee was constituted pursuant to an order of the NGT in a petition filed by a Punjab resident Jai Gopal Dhiman through advocate Cauveri Birbal.
The petitioner has prayed for quashing a notification dated June 4, 2019 advancing the date of transplantation of paddy in Punjab from June 20 to June 13.
The report states that since shorter duration rice varieties are now available and sufficient window can be maintained for crop burning even if transplantation is delayed by as late June 20.
“Some studies have indicated that smaller window due to late transplanting may lead to concentration of burning events in short span of time (Balwinder-Singh et al, 2019). Sufficient window however, can be maintained even under transplanting from 20h June by adopting short duration varieties”.
Further, technology like Happy Seeder and Super SMS are now available and being used for straw management. As a result, paddy straw burning which was in an area of 21.34 lakh hectares in 2016 came down to 19.97 lakh and 17.87 lakh in 2017 and 2018 respectively. The Air Quality Index also improved by 50.1 percent (from poor to moderate category) in 2018 as compared to 2017. Thus, the narrow window of time between the two crops should not be a serious issue, the report states.
Thus, the report has arrived at the following conclusions:
Availability of ‘short duration’ rice varieties provides the means for availing water saving benefits of transplanting from June 20 onwards.
Strawn burning issue is also resolved due to the availability of straw management technology which allows for retention/ incorporation/removal of straw without resorting to burning.
Shifting of transplanting date to June 20 will help save underground water resources and would not add to air pollution due to stubble burning.
Interestingly, this report comes at a time when the Supreme Court has been hearing a suo motu case on air pollution and stubble burning has been particularly critical of the State of Punjab, Delhi and Central government.