The national capital city has turned into no less than a smog-struck gas chamber, this happens every winter in Delhi – thanks to the widespread stubble burning done by farmers of Punjab and Haryana. Instead of unilaterally banning the burning of crop waste, we should really try to look into the genesis of this problem and try to find a solution at the roots – that is how Delhi can be revived from being a gas chamber.

Dense smog has engulfed Delhi since last few days – schools had to be shut down, highway traffic has halted and the never-stopping Delhi has slowed down. The fatal levels of carcinogenic pollutants in this toxic haze are roughly 10 times the reading in Beijing, the city infamous for its polluted air. The state government has announced an emergency and the odd-even rule for road rationing of private cars has already been implemented. The state governments have actually banned stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana – the farmers who do so FIRs, fines and even get jailed. But they don’t care, not because of ignorance, but because they might not be having any other option than burning the useless stubble.

In this situations, unilateral bans won’t work. Perhaps, we must try to understand why the farmers are burning stubble straws and then find a suitable solution – which will prove to be a win-win for all. The problem here is, farmers of Punjab and Haryana mainly crop wheat and paddy and they are harvested using combine harvesters. Since these harvesting machines harvest, thresh and clean the separated grain at one go – they operate 50-60 cm above ground. Which means, once done, they leave behind 40-50 cm of loose straw and 50-60 cm of standing stubble from average crops. The stubble isn’t easy to dispose, and farmers have very short time-frame for to clear the fields and prepare for winter crops.

Since the stubble is useless anyway, the farmers opt for cheapest and easiest method of getting rid of it – that is burning it away. So what is the solution to this? A technological one, for sure. The most viable option is the machine named Turbo Happy Seeder (THS). This is a tractor-mounted machine that basically cuts and lifts the standing stubble, drills the wheat seeds into the bare soil, and deposits the straw over the sown area as a mulch cover. The THS not only dispenses with the need for burning residue, but actually allows wheat to be planted even on fields containing straw. And this is quick too, giving the crops a week more to cultivate, as they won’t have to wait for the fields to retain moisture after burning. The THS then has to be combines with Super-Straw Management System (S-SMS) machine which takes care of loose straws.

The problem here is, THS costs Rs 1.3 lakh, while the S-SMS adds another Rs 1.2 lakh – not everyone can afford it. The solution is, that either the government subsidises these machines, or they are made available on custom-hiring basis, just as combine machines are available today. And that is where the solution lies, not in banning crop burning vaguely.