Home >politics >policy >Economic Survey suggests converting agricultural waste into biofuels to tackle pollution
The Economic Survey noted that in recent years, Delhi and adjoining areas had experienced alarmingly poor air quality, especially in winters when farmers in northern India set their paddy fields on fire after harvesting the crop. Photo: Hindustan Times
The Economic Survey noted that in recent years, Delhi and adjoining areas had experienced alarmingly poor air quality, especially in winters when farmers in northern India set their paddy fields on fire after harvesting the crop. Photo: Hindustan Times

Economic Survey suggests converting agricultural waste into biofuels to tackle pollution

Survey also recommends 'congestion pricing' for vehicles, expanding and improving public bus system to reduce private vehicle use, and phasing out old vehicles to reduce pollution

New Delhi: The Economic Survey released on Monday suggested conversion of agricultural waste into usable fodder or biofuels to tackle one root cause of pollution—burning of crop residue—in the national capital region (NCR) centred on Delhi.

Apart from stubble burning, the survey presented in Parliament on the first day of the budget session identified vehicular emissions and construction activity for high pollution levels in NCR.

It recommended solutions such as ‘congestion pricing’ for vehicles, expanding and improving the public bus system to reduce private vehicle use, and phasing out of old vehicles, and accelerating Bharat Stage VI (BS VI) emissions norms, which are due to be in place from April 2020.

The survey noted that in recent years, Delhi and adjoining areas had experienced alarmingly poor air quality, especially in winters when farmers in northern India set their paddy fields on fire after harvesting the crop.

“A combination of reasons, among which crop burning in the adjoining states plays a major role, piling on top of one another, in a dense urban concentration of a massive and growing capital city renders this region in a serious hazardous state," noted the survey.

The solution is to address each source of pollution “systematically, one-by-one, coordinating across agencies and governments, and with sustained civic engagement," the survey said.

To control agricultural waste burning, the economic survey suggested heavy penalties, use of satellite- and mobile-based applications and incentive payments to farmers.

“Use technologies to convert agricultural waste into usable concentrated fodder or bio-fuels, develop and implement business models with private sector and communities and incentivize shift to non-paddy crops. In other words, explore the business cases for finding uses for the crop residues such as manure to reduce fertilizer cost, generate power so that economic values could be assigned," the survey said.

Highlighting one example, the survey drew attention to a ‘straw management system’ for rice and wheat farming that uses a technological solution called happy seeder machine.

“It is a machine that sows seeds without the need to remove paddy straw and works well when the straw is spread evenly on the field through the straw management system. The technological solution has to be combined with the economics of it by further incentivizing by the Centre and States and implemented through agricultural cooperatives, local bodies etc," the survey added.

This winter seasons too, Delhi has experienced high levels of air pollution, with air quality crossing the ‘severe’ level that is several times the safe limit. Burning of agricultural waste, dust and pollution from vehicles were among the main identified reasons behind the high levels of pollution.

A report titled ‘Airpocalypse-II,’ released by Greenpeace on Monday, ranked Delhi as India’s most polluted city, followed by Faridabad in Haryana, Bhiwadi in Rajasthan and the Bihar capital Patna.

The report said the most polluted cities are spread across the Indo-Gangetic basin, adding that southern cities are slightly better off compared to their northern counterparts.

“However, cities in south also need a focused and time-bound action plan to bring air quality to achieve the WHO (World Health Organisation) standards showing a pathway for other cities across India," the Greenpeace report stressed.

The report analysed particulate matter 10 (PM10) annual average for 280 cities that have 630 million people, or 53% of India’s total population. PM10 are are ultrafine particulates having the ability to enter the respiratory system.

The Greenpeace report noted that 580 million (47%) of India’s population live in areas for which no air quality data is available.

“Out of 630 million close to 550 million people live in areas exceeding national standards for PM10, including 180 million living in areas where air pollution levels are more than twice the stipulated limit of 60g/m3which has been set by CPCB," the report said. CPCB is short for Central Pollution Control Board.

“Only 16% of the population inhabiting the districts have real time air quality data available; it portrays how inhumanly we are responding to the national health crisis in front of us. Even the manual data collected for 300 cities/towns across the country is not shared in a timely manner and in a format which can be accessed and understood easily by general public," said Sunil Dahiya, who is a senior campaigner with Greenpeace India.

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