A Comprehensive Plan to Effectively Manage Stubble Burning : Daily News Analysis

Date : 21/11/2023

Relevance:GS Paper3- Environment

Keywords: Biofuel production, Palletisation, DBT, Bio CNG, Circular Economy, direct seeding of rice (DSR) Technique


Stubble burning, a prevalent practice in agriculture, has escalated over the decades, posing significant environmental and health challenges. Here, we look into the root causes of stubble burning, and its widespread consequences, and propose a multifaceted plan aimed at curbing this detrimental agricultural practice.

What is Stubble Burning?

  • Stubble burning, prevalent in October and November across North West India, particularly in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, involves setting on fire the straw stubble left after harvesting grains like paddy and wheat.
  • This method clears fields for wheat sowing from late September to November, aligning with the withdrawal of the southwest monsoon.
  • This practice is essential in areas using combined harvesting, where crop residue is left behind.

Historical Shifts: From Traditional Practices to Stubble Burning

Evolution of Agricultural Practices

  • Decades ago, crop residue, including stubble, served various purposes such as livestock fodder and kitchen fuel.
  • However, shifts in agricultural dynamics in the 1990s, driven by factors like subsidized power for groundwater extraction, altered this landscape.

Mechanization and Stubble Accumulation

  • The introduction of machines like the Combined Harvester resulted in the accumulation of stubble in fields after harvesting.
  • Unlike manual methods that left a minimal residue, these machines left behind 2-3 feet of stubble, necessitating a separate round of harvesting, collection, and disposal.

Rise in Paddy Acreages

  • Assured irrigation due to subsidized power in states like Punjab and Haryana led to a substantial increase in paddy acreages.
  • This further intensified the demand for labor, prompting the adoption of labor-saving machines and contributing to the surge in stubble-burning incidents.

The Challenge of Stubble Disposal

Inherent Challenges of Paddy Straw

  • Paddy straw, with its high silica content, is unsuitable as animal feed and interferes with subsequent crop operations if plowed back into the field.
  • Farmers, facing limited alternatives, resort to burning stubble as a quick and convenient solution.

Ineffectiveness of Existing Initiatives

  • Despite multiple initiatives, such as decomposers and direct seeding of rice (DSR) techniques, the stubble burning problem remains a persistent challenge, particularly in northwest India and the National Capital Territory Region.

Proposed Solutions

Rethinking Power Subsidies

  • Shift to Metered Power Supply: Transition from free or subsidized power to a metered supply to avert groundwater over-exploitation.
  • Direct Cash/Benefit Transfer (DBT): Provide farmers with a DBT indexed to inflation in power tariffs, ensuring a gradual transition away from paddy cultivation.

Creating a Market for Stubble

  1. Baling Machines: Utilize balers for paddy straw to make it part of the value chain, enabling farmers to sell stubble.
  2. Market Development: Establish a robust market for stubble by incentivizing its use in biofuel production, such as BioCNG and ethanol, as well as in brick kilns and thermal plants.


  • Developed by the Indian Agriculture Research Institute, the bio-enzyme named PUSA addresses stubble burning.
  • Upon spraying, PUSA decomposes stubble within 20-25 days, transforming it into enriching manure and improving soil health.
  • Increases organic carbon, reducing fertilizer expenses for subsequent cropping cycles.


  • Paddy straw, when dried and pelletized, can serve as a coal substitute in thermal power plants and industries, curbing coal usage and reducing carbon emissions.

Happy Seeder:

  • Instead of burning stubble, the Happy Seeder, a tractor-mounted machine, cuts and lifts rice straw.
  • It simultaneously sows wheat into the bare soil, depositing the straw as mulch, promoting sustainable agricultural practices

Supporting Biofuel Production

  • Incentives for Balers: Provide incentives for the adoption of baling machines, making them more accessible to farmers.
  • Promoting Compressed Biogas: Encourage the production of compressed biogas from straw through anaerobic digestion, ensuring economic and environmental benefits.

Chhattisgarh Innovative Model:

  • Chhattisgarh government's initiative involves setting up gauthans, five-acre plots owned by each village.
  • Unused stubble or parali is collected through parali daan (people's donations) and transformed into organic fertilizer by mixing cow dung with natural enzymes.

Economic Viability and Market Dynamics

Cost Analysis

  • Baling Costs: Estimate the costs associated with baling machines, including cutting, raking, packaging, and storing bales on land.
    • On average, baling costs range between Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,100 per acre, considering the entire process.
  • Market Value: Evaluate the market value of paddy straw, considering the costs involved, and propose a sustainable pricing model.
    • A market value of Rs 1,000-1,200 per tonne of bale of parali appears economically feasible, covering costs and leaving a small margin for the farmer

Current Market Trends

  • Biofuel Production: Explore the emerging market for paddy straw in biofuel production, including BioCNG and ethanol.
    • Some enterprising farmers have sold parali at Rs 180 per quintal this season, indicating an indicative market value.
  • Entrepreneurial Initiatives: Highlight instances of farmers selling stubble at market prices, indicating the potential for a viable market.
    • Punjab generates about 20 million metric tonnes (MMTs) of stubble, with approximately 85% being burnt in the field.
  • Total Cost of Procurement: The total cost of procuring the entire parali burnt in the field in Punjab comes to Rs 2,000 crore, and in Haryana, about Rs 1,000 crore.

Long-Term Vision: Circular Economy in Agriculture

  • Supply Chain Support: Advocate for sustained support to the supply chains of paddy straw for at least four to five years.
    • Punjab generates about 20 MMTs, and Haryana has about half of this.
  • Circular Economy Benefits: Emphasize the potential of converting agricultural waste into wealth, fostering a circular economy in agriculture nationwide.

Regulatory Measures and Enforcement

Legal Framework

  • Stubble Burning Laws: Propose stringent laws against stubble burning, once an effective channel for procuring paddy straw is established.
    • Strict enforcement of laws against burning any crop straw should be implemented.
  • Administrative Support: Emphasize the need for administrative support to enforce these laws effectively.

Health and Environmental Impact

  • Health Consequences: Highlight the severe health implications of stubble burning, affecting millions of lives.
    • Stubble burning poses significant health risks, contributing to respiratory issues and other ailments.
  • Environmental Degradation: Illustrate the environmental damage caused by this practice, underlining the urgency of intervention.
    • Stubble burning contributes to air pollution, soil degradation, and overall environmental degradation.


Addressing the stubble-burning crisis requires a holistic approach encompassing policy shifts, market development, and strict regulatory measures. By rethinking power subsidies, creating a viable market for stubble, and supporting biofuel production, we can not only mitigate the environmental impact but also contribute to the economic well-being of farmers. This comprehensive plan, coupled with legal backing and administrative support, can pave the way for sustainable agriculture and a healthier environment.

Probable Questions for UPSC mains Exam-

  1. Discuss the historical shifts in agricultural practices that have contributed to the escalation of stubble burning. Highlight the key factors, that have led to the prevalence of this practice. ( 10 Marks, 150Words)
  2. Evaluate the proposed solutions to stubble burning, including the shift to metered power supply, the creation of a market for stubble, and innovative methods like the use of Happy Seeder and the Chhattisgarh Innovative Model. Analyze the economic viability and potential challenges associated with these solutions.( 15 Marks, 250Words )

Source- Indian Express