Tackling the Burning Issue of Air Pollution in India

▲ Farmers learn alternative straw management methods in a project to reduce stubble burning supported by CLP India and the Confederation of Indian Industry Foundation.

The Taj Mahal in India is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. But visit in the winter months and you are likely to find mobile air purifiers placed around the iconic landmark to mitigate the impact of poor air quality.

▲ Stubble burning generates heavy smoke and worsens air pollution.

Air pollution in India has been aggravated by a number of factors including crop residue burning. In the autumn and early winter, farmers burn stubble left by the harvest, generating heavy smoke which – combined with fog, dust, and vehicle and factory emissions – creates a thick haze.

Stubble burning is widespread in northwest India and has significantly contributed to air pollution in the area. According to an article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the particulate matter emitted by stubble burning in Delhi is 17 times of that of all other sources combined, including vehicle emissions, garbage burning, and industrial pollution.

To reduce stubble burning and the resultant particulate emissions, CLP India has teamed up with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) Foundation to support a project encouraging farmers to adopt sustainable methods of crop residue management in the northern Indian state of Haryana, where Jhajjar Power Station is located.

The project covers an estimated 7,500 acres of farmland, equivalent to the size of around 5,000 football fields. It will run for two years and is initially being implemented in five villages in the districts of Rohtak and Fatehabad with the support of non-profit partners and farmers’ groups.

“Crop residue burning not only contributes to harmful emissions, but also depletes essential nutrients from the soil,” says CLP India’s Head of Corporate Social Responsibility Dr Priyesh Modi. “Our intervention in partnership with the CII Foundation aims to bring about a fundamental change in farming practices in the region. We hope our efforts will help reduce crop residue burning in the state and contribute towards a clean, green environment.”

▲ Dhirender Khadgata (in purple shirt), Deputy Commissioner of Fatehabad, discusses straw management issues with farmers.

CII Foundation Programme Lead Chandrakant Pradhan says the response from farmers has been encouraging. “A large number of them have taken the initiative of adopting improved straw management practice themselves, and many others have shown exemplary social leadership in convincing others to join in the endeavour,” he explains.

“In the middle of one more season of widespread stubble burning across the region, this project has demonstrated how this deep-rooted issue can be tackled successfully.”

The project includes a series of community interactions and campaigns to educate farmers and help them build capacity for eco-friendly methods of straw management to eradicate the need for any burning. It also helps farmers deploy crop residue management farm tools and technologies to better manage the stubble.

“CLP India and the CII Foundation have helped us in ending straw burning in our village – something we have always wanted to do, but did not have the means to do before. Their support has encouraged us,” says Ramesh Chauhan, President of the Thakur Agriculture Society, a farmers group in Ghotru, Fatehabad.

▲The project allows farmers to buy or rent high-powered tractors and balers for straw clearing.

A lack of capital to buy the expensive farm tools needed for straw management is one of the reasons behind the burning practice. The project provides financial support to farmer groups to help them purchase farm tools, as well as to buy or rent the high-powered tractors and balers required to clear straw from fields. It aims to connect farmers to Government schemes providing subsidies to buy farm tools.

The initiative also hopes to help farmers generate additional sources of income through supporting farmers in turning crop residue into biogas.

“The project has provided us with machinery support to manage the crop residues which has given us a ray of hope,” says Kuldeep Hooda, President of the Bharat Multipurpose Co. Op. Society, a farmers group in Village Dhamar, Rohtak.