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500 biogas plants to tackle stubble burning, pollution

Stubble burning contributes to climate change, increases health costs from air pollution, and disrupts economic activity through cancellation or delays in flights, trains and road traffic and causes accidents. (HT)
Stubble burning contributes to climate change, increases health costs from air pollution, and disrupts economic activity through cancellation or delays in flights, trains and road traffic and causes accidents. (HT)

Summary

Stubble burning is the practice of setting fire to the straw stubble (parali) that is left on farms after harvesting grains such as wheat and paddy to prepare it for the next round of seeding

New Delhi: Around 500 biogas plants are expected to come up across the country this fiscal year with financial support from the Centre to help in check stubble burning and air pollution, according to NITI Aayog member Ramesh Chand.

Stubble burning is the practice of setting fire to the straw stubble (parali) that is left on farms after harvesting grains such as wheat and paddy to prepare it for the next round of seeding. Farmers across northern states, especially Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, burn crop debris in late-October and November, worsening air pollution in the process.

As per a report by Ruoyu Lan, a climate science researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, US, more than 90% of India’s fire-related exposure increase is because of emissions from agricultural fires in the northwestern states -- 64% from Punjab, 11% from Haryana and 5.7% from Uttar Pradesh.

The planned biogas plants would source crop stubbles collected from fields after harvest as raw material to produce gas. Chand said the SATAT scheme of the Centre which encourages businesses to set up compressed biogas plants to supply fuel to auto fuel retailers like Indian Oil Corp is emerging as a good model.

Besides, the Centre also offered a ‘waste to wealth’ scheme this year in the union budget to promote circular economy. These plants, he said, will get a grant.

Entrepreneurs could set these up without government aid as well. “There is interest in this," Chand said, adding that recycling agriculture waste has been made possible by baler machines as manual collection of agriculture waste is costly.

“With this, one can save a lot on the cost of collection and transportation of agriculture bio-waste," said Chand. The government has allocated 10,000 crore to build the 500 plants.

Stubble burning contributes to climate change, increases health costs from air pollution, and disrupts economic activity through cancellation or delays in flights, trains and road traffic and causes accidents.

Compressed biogas, like compressed natural gas, helps reduce fossil fuel consumption and to cut the carbon footprint of the economy.

The government is already encouraging oil marketing companies to blend auto fuel with ethanol to reduce consumption of crude oil. The plan is to introduce a similar 5% CBG mandate on natural gas retailers.

Stubble burning emits fine particulate matter or PM2.5, an air pollutant which causes a concern to people’s health when levels in the air are high. The particles can get trapped inside the lungs and increase the risk of lung cancer by 36%. The cost of air pollution due to stubble burning in India is projected to be $30 billion annually. Burning one tonne of rice causes a loss of 5.5 kilogram (kg) of nitrogen, 2.3 kg phosphorus, 25 kg potassium and over 1 kg of sulfur. The heat from burning crop residue kills critical bacterial and fungal populations in the soil, other than organic carbon.

India is pursuing alternative fuels and electric mobility in a big way to reduce its import dependence on crude oil as soaring prices have impacted government finances, import bill and inflation which in turn affects consumption and economic growth.

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