ALSO READDelhi chokes as air pollution worsens, Twitter users slam govt over inaction Delhi air severe: Medical body declares health emergency, says schools should remain shut In pics: Delhiites brave dense smog, schools shut till Sunday Beware Delhi! Prepare for smog again, stubble burning has begun Delhi smog: NGT bans construction, industrial work and top 10 developments
After announcing early rollout of Bharat Stage VI (BS-VI) emission norms in Delhi by April 1 next year, two years ahead of the earlier target, the Union ministry of petroleum and natural gas is now getting into a solution for crop stubble burning, a major reason for air pollution in the National Capital Region (NCR). According to sources, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation (HPC), Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and Bharat Petroleum Corporation (BPC), the three government-owned oil marketing companies, will soon set up stubble collection centres across the country. What is collected would then feed a dozen upcoming second-generation bioethanol plants. “The OMCs would require about 150,000 tonnes of biomass — including rice straw, wheat straw and bamboo shoots — for each of these plants annually. Two such plants are coming up in Punjab and Haryana. Hence, it is logical for them to collect and stock this biomass within the 15-30 days it will be available in a year,” said Y B Ramakrishna, chairman of the ministry’s working group on biofuels. This year, pushed by stubble burning, the NCR saw a bad episode of smog over several days, prompting the shutting of schools and a ban on entry of heavy vehicles in city limits. Farmers mainly in the northern states of Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand burn paddy straw that remains in the field after the main crop is harvested. Through the proposed collection centres and bioethanol plants, the OMCs are trying to find a solution to this. They are expected to invest at least Rs 10,000 crore in the sector; private companies are also likely to come up with 16 plants, taking the total investment to about Rs 30,000 crore in the segment. Ramakrishna says this will be enough to stop the stubble burning, as each of these plants would require 500 tonnes of biomass a day. According to some estimates, around 34 million tonnes of paddy straw is generated in the four states named here of which a maximum of 23 mt would be from fields cleared by combine harvesters. In these, the tracks have to be cleared fast and because it is mechanised, the entire stubble doesn’t get uprooted. This leaves the farmer with little option but to burn it, if he wants to clear his field swiftly enough for the new crop. Officials said the time consuming option of allowing the stubble to naturally die can only be considered at the expense of delaying the sowing of wheat, the successor crop, which would mean a loss in yield. An option is to attach the combine harvesters with an extra machine called the ‘Super Straw Management System’ (SMS).
This cuts the straw closer to the ground and into pieces, which then gets mixed with the soil, saving the farmers from burning it. Each SMS costs Rs 1-1.25 lakh. According to some reports, Punjab has nearly 7,500 self-propelled combine harvester machines and nearly 8,500 tractor-driven combines not attached with SMS. The state government gives a 50 per cent subsidy on such machines, up to Rs 50,000. But, many farmers say the additional machine lower the efficiency of the combine harvester. A NITI Aayog estimate suggests Rs 11,500 crore would be needed to permanently address the problem. This would entail first ensuring the crop residue is addressed within the field itself, along with ensuring the paddy straw gets a ready market. Meanwhile, the OMCs are readying the plan for their bioethanol units — HPC with four; IOC three, BPC, three; and one each from Mangalore Refinery & Petrochemicals and the Numaligarh refinery. Private companies CMC Biorefineries, Jab Inogi and Chempolis are also in the business. This followed the ministry plan to increase ethanol blending on fuel from 4.3 per cent now to 8-10 per cent in 2020-21. For 10 per cent ethanol blending, India will require about 4.5 billion litres of it in a year, about Rs 23,000 crore in value. “While these measures are laudable and will reap benefits in the long term, there also needs to be a paradigm shift in the way cities are being planned and in public transport. The electric vehicle mission needs to gain pace and public transport should adopt that. Along with it, a concerted effort to push citizens to adopt public transport is needed but that is possible only when there are viable and affordable solutions,” says Hem Dholakia, senior research associate at the Council of Energy, Environment and Water.