For the past several years, farmers are burning illegally wheat straw and the other residue left after harvesting the rabi crop. Earlier, the wheat crop was harvested manually and chaff was made by using wheat thrashers, which was used for feed of animals. But to save time, money and labour and due to fear of bad weather, farmers now use mechanical method i.e. combine harvesters and make chaff with reapers. To clear off the fields for the paddy crop, the wheat straw and residue left behind are burnt in the fields for their easy disposal. This process starts in the first week of May and goes up to second week of June immediately after the wheat harvesting is completed. About 17 million ton of wheat straw is produced every year in Punjab.
Burning of wheat straw has the following bad effects:
Environment pollution: Smoke produced due to burning of wheat straw contains harmful and deadly gases like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide etc. Thick mass of smoke enveloping the earth can be seen during these days. Already pollution has crossed all the limits due to industrial development, agricultural revolution and various other human activities. Dangerous aerosols are emitted due to burning of wheat straw.
Fire Accidents: Due to uncontrolled fire of wheat straw, many acres of wheat crop get burnt every year. This fire sometimes reaches nearby areas like godowns, food grain stocks, army ammunition depots etc. There are daily reports of fire accidents during these days.
Harm to trees: Thousands of trees on the road side, banks of canals and in the fields get scorched to death due to the fire of wheat stumps. Most of the times, farmers burn the wheat straw when the wind blows towards the road so that it does not spread to the nearby fields. In summer, the grass near the fields and the road gets dried up and catches fire easily. The high reaching flames of fire burn young saplings fully. The stems and roots of big trees like kikar, sheesham, eucalyptus etc on both sides of the road are affected badly. Due to this, the further development of trees gets stopped. Black soot caused by fire can be seen deposited on the trees. Trees grown by hard labour become leafless and dried due to fire causing a great financial loss to the forest department.
- Harm to Soil Fertility: Due to the fire of wheat straw burning, the yielding power of land gets reduced greatly. The nutritious elements get destroyed which reduces the yield of next crops. The friendly insects like earth worms, reptiles and animals living in borrow are finished and are becoming extinct gradually. The upper layer of land becomes dry and its humidity content decreases due to heat of fire. There is a great harm to natural greenery. Land will become barren if burning of wheat straw is continued this way. A lot of organic material useful for maintaining soil fertility is also reduced to ashes.
- Increase in Accidents: When wheat straw is burnt in the fields, thick dark smoke is spread widely all around which reduces visibility to a great extent, almost to zero. Due to this, driving of vehicles becomes difficult on main and link roads leading to a large number of accidents. Thus hundreds of human lives are lost every year due to burning of wheat straw.
- Danger to Birds: Due to burning of wheat straw, the nests of birds on the trees in the fields and on road side and their eggs in them are burnt. Birds fly to far flung areas due to the fear of fire. Many species of birds are becoming extinct. Growth of bird’s population has greatly reduced.
- Diseases: Due to smoke and soot suspended in the air, many diseases like cough, fever, cold, T.B., cancer, irritation in eyes, allergy, choking of lungs, and problem in breathing and other respiratory problems are increased in these days. Thousands of people die due to these diseases due to lack of proper health care and poor arrangements in civil hospitals. According to doctors, the number of patients suffering from respiratory problems and allergies increase during this season.
- Increase in Temperature: When wheat straw is burnt, temperature in the nearby areas increases several degrees above the normal leading to environmental changes.
BAN AND LAWS
Punjab government and district administration impose ban on burning of wheat straw under section 144 Cr. P.C. every year but these ban orders remain limited to papers only. The ban does not get implemented and remains as mere warning to the farmers. Farmers do not bother about these orders and burn wheat straw without any hesitation. No punishment is given to the erring farmers although rules have been framed to prevent pollution from industries and factories and heavy fines are imposed to those violating these rules but no concrete step has been taken to stop the burning of wheat straw.
Farmers can get double benefit if they stop burning wheat straw. On one hand, they can sell the chaff if they harvest the crop manually. The prices of wheat chaff are soaring high due to its shortage. On the other hand, if they plough the wheat straw and other residue in their fields, less chemical fertilizers will be required and the yield value of land will also increase. According to agricultural experts, this straw is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. If this straw is recycled, 0.824 million ton of NPK will be available to the soil which is about 50 % of total fertilizer consumption. Nutritious value of the soil will not be destroyed.
Burning of wheat straw can only be stopped through awareness among farmers by conducting seminars in the villages. Print media like newspapers, magazines etc. and mass media like radio, T.V. can play important role. Simultaneously, ban orders should be implemented with hardship and punishment should be given to those involved in this menace. Burning of wheat straw should be made a penal offence. Stringent measures should be taken to stop this menace. All rich and poor breathe in the same air. Farming community should be educated in this regard. All political parties, religious organizations, farmer unions, non-government organizations and social welfare clubs, revenue, agriculture, irrigation departments should start a campaign against this. Forest department authorities should impose heavy fine to the farmers for the trees on the government land burnt by the fire of wheat straw.