To prevent rise in air pollution levels, oil marketing companies and thermal power units were planning to procure stubble from farmers to make bioethanol and promote the central government’s ‘Agricultural Mechanization’ for crop residue management.
But both have seen minimal success.
Several plans to divert crop residue or stubble remain non-starters even as the National Capital Region (NCR) chokes on severe air pollution every year.
To prevent rise in air pollution levels, oil marketing companies (OMCs) and thermal power units were planning to procure stubble and promote the central government’s ‘Agricultural Mechanization’ for crop residue management.
But both have seen minimal success.
Officials said the plan by OMCs to procure stubble from farmers to make bioethanol was likely to materalise from the next financial year.
The government had last year planned to set up at least 12 second-generation bioethanol plants, which require 150,000 tonnes of bio mass, including rice straw, wheat straw, and bamboo shoots for each, annually.
According to the plan, OMCs would set up collection centres and pay the farmers for the stubble.
Officials said three of these units were expected to be commissioned by the end of 2020, which were likely to see investment of Rs 2,000-2,500 crore.
Some plants are in the fast track, which include Hindustan Petrochemical Corporation’s planned unit in Bhatinda (Punjab), Indian Oil Corporation’s Panipat (Haryana), and Bharat Petroleum Corporation’s Bargadh (Odisha) 2G bioethanol plants.
“One plant in Numaligarh (Assam) and another in Madhya Pradesh are based on bamboo and soya residue, respectively, and are likely to be commissioned by mid-2021,” said Y B Ramakrishna, chairman, working group on biofuels of the ministry of petroleum and natural gas.
He said OMCs were working on feed stock supply chain, and price to farmer would be determined later.
According to government estimates, there is potential for close to a hundred bio gas plants in Punjab and Haryana based on stubble under SATAT programme launched by the oil ministry in October 2018.
The scheme allowed potential entrepreneurs to set up Compressed Bio-Gas (CBG) production plants and make available CBG in the market for use in automotive fuels.
Among the series of ventures lined up to use stubble for producing power, only two in Punjab have materialised.
NTPC, India’s largest thermal power producer, has issued six tenders to procure biomass pellets but the supply has been limited, said an official.
There are several agencies that supply crop residue-based biomass pellets, but the supply falls short, the person added.
Farmers in Punjab and Haryana said no bulk buyers had approached them.
In Haryana, the biggest buyer of paddy residue is the packaging industry.
“We sell our residue to local agents for Rs 3,000-Rs 3,500 per acre,” said Shamsher Singh, spokesperson of Bhumi Bachao Sangharsh Samiti.
Another farmer in Mumtajpur in Haryana said they were selling paddy residue to landless live-stock holders.
“If it were not for them, we would continue burning stubble, as the government doesn’t have any action plan of procuring it,” he said.
With regards to the agriculture mechanisation scheme, the success is more dismal.
Under the scheme, agricultural machines and equipment for in-situ crop residue management are promoted with 50 per cent subsidy to the individual farmers and 80 per cent subsidy for the establishment of Custom Hiring Centres of the machines.
“In Punjab, 2.92 million hectares are used for paddy cultivation; the government has provided seeders to approximately 30,000 farmers, which is around 4.5 per cent.
"Now, how can the government ask poor farmers to decompose stubble without machines?” Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal) president Balbir Singh Rajewal said.
He said farmers in Punjab were burning stubble because they were not getting enough gaps between the sowing seasons.
The government has barred any nursery sowing and transplanting of paddy before May 15 and June 15, respectively.
Normally, paddy takes 140-175 days to get ready for harvesting.
“Soon after harvesting, their crops they have to prepare their field for rabi crops, so they have no other option apart from burning stubbles,” Rajewal said.
Photograph: PTI Photo