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The traumatic weekend for Delhi and the larger National Capital Region, with millions choking under a thick blanket of smog, has stoked immense public anger against governments – central and state. The annual repeat of this gas chamber phenomenon demands that government shift from focusing solely on curbing farm fires to the reasons that set them off. Centre has belatedly begun to coordinate the firefighting. But crisis-time public posturing will not ensure an end to this practice. North India’s air pollution woes are just one manifestation of farm/ water policies gone horribly wrong.

Lurking in the core of the crisis is an outdated food security doctrine that has combined with unrestrained populism to wreak havoc. What began as a buffer stock of rice and wheat has morphed into a pan-India sprawl of a few crops supported by government procurement agencies and minimum support prices. In July, total wheat and rice stock with Centre was 74.3 million tons, a whopping 33.1 million tons in excess of relevant stocking norms. The anomaly of government heavily subsidising farmers to produce excess rice at great economic and environmental cost, which then rots in FCI godowns or gets exported, must be fixed.

Free power and open-ended procurement has meant that farmers pump out groundwater endlessly to grow paddy. Producing 1 kg of rice in Punjab requires over 5,000 litres of water and with an annual paddy output of 12 million tons, this amounts to shipping out nearly 45 trillion litres of groundwater. Responding to this rapacious exploitation Punjab and Haryana enacted a Preservation of Subsoil Water Act in 2009, banning paddy transplanting until June 15 to preserve groundwater during summer.

This pushed the harvest further backwards towards October-November which, accompanied by the use of combine harvesters that leave paddy stalks standing and the hurry to prepare the ground for the next rabi crop in November, prompts farmers to burn stubble. As is evident, one myopic policy after another has created an environmental and public health disaster. Turning Punjab and Haryana farmers away from paddy cultivation solves all the problems at one stroke but withdrawing subsidies on power, procurement processes and MSPs, requires immense political will. This critical moment demands bipartisanship and statesmanship. Will the political class stand up as one to be counted, or continue with policies that starve us of water and breathable air?

Agricultural scientist Dr. M S Swaminathan has suggested a solution to deal with problem of dealing with stocks of rice stubble on paddy farmersâ f...

4 Wheels Reaper And Binder

While wat the author says is absolutely logical, it's not practical. No government will commit suicide by withdrawing subsidies. The opposition in t...

Agricultural Machinery, Combine Harvester, Corn Combine Harvester - Zhonglian,