1.A way out to stubble burning (Business Standard)

2.Pakistan-Iran-India vis-à-vis Chabahar port (Indian Express)

1.A way out to stubble burning (Indian Express)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of stubble burning and its implications and solutions. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • The current smog and poor air quality in the National Capital Region has been blamed in part on stubble burning by farmers, especially in neighbouring Punjab and Haryana. What is the genesis of the problem? What are its potential solutions?

Geographical expansion of the stubble burning

  • It is mainly confined to Punjab, Haryana and parts of western Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, where farmers grow paddy and wheat, and harvest these using combine harvesters.
  • This belt produces an estimated 34 million tonnes (mt) of paddy straw every season, of which some 23 mt is from combine-harvested fields and burned within less than a month’s span between mid-October and around November 10.

But why does this happen only with combine harvesting?

  • In manual harvesting using sickles, the crop is cut close to the ground. The resultant paddy straw after threshing i.e. separation of grain, can be used as fodder or packaging material. As against this, combines machines that harvest, thresh and clean the separated grain at one go operate at 50-60 cm above the ground.
  • Assuming the average paddy plant is one metre (100 cm) tall, it would generate 40-50 cm of loose straw and 50-60 cm of standing stubble. Disposal of this residue isn’t easy. Normal paddy straw, as it is, fetches very low rates, as it cannot be finely cut or made into chaff (bhusa) like wheat straw.
  • Leftover straw is practically useless. For farmers in North India who have the option of feeding their animals wheat bhusa, sugarcane tops, jowar, bajra and other superior fodder it is only worthy of burning.

Why it is not a problem in southern states

  • They, to begin with, don’t have as many alternatives to paddy straw as their North western Indian counterparts. But a more important reason has to do with wheat. In the Punjab-Haryana-Western UP belt, this is usually a 140-150-day crop maturing towards mid-April when maximum temperatures are just about to cross 35 degrees Celsius.
  • For achieving maximum yields, which requires growing for the full duration, farmers have to plant before November 15. That, however, isn’t possible without harvesting of paddy and field preparation happening well in time for the sowing of wheat.
  • Normally, paddy itself is not ready for harvesting before October 15. In the case of long-duration varieties like Pusa-44 which takes 160 days to mature from the time of sowing seeds in the nursery this could extend for even longer. Narrowing the window further for farmers in Punjab is a water-saving law the Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act, 2009 which bars nursery sowing and transplanting of paddy before May 15 and June 15, respectively.
  • Given the small turnaround window of hardly 20 days between rice harvesting and the optimal sowing of wheat, the flexibility to clear the field of leftover straw, whether by manual removal or in situ incorporation, is limited. The least-cost and most time-saving option is to simply burn.

Sustainable solutions to the problem: Way out

  • One way out is to reduce the paddy crop’s duration, which, in turn, increases the farmer’s time to prepare for the sowing of the next wheat crop. Such breeding for shorter durations is already happening. Breeding for a reduced duration can help extend the planting window for wheat. But it still does not eliminate the stubble problem for the farmer, burning remains the least-cost method for getting useless straw off his field.
  • Alternatives such as residue incorporation, while attractive in theory, entail costs by way of 2-3 extra tillage operations and use of chopper-shredder machines for reducing the size of straws. Farmers may well continue setting their fields on fire, even after planting short-duration paddy varieties.
  • The most viable technology seems to be what is called Turbo Happy Seeder (THS). This is a tractor-mounted machine that basically cuts and lifts the standing stubble, drills the wheat seeds into the bare soil, and deposits the straw over the sown area as a mulch cover. The THS not only dispenses with the need for burning residue, but actually allows wheat to be planted even on fields containing straw.
  • Moreover, the time savings are huge. “Stubble burning causes moisture loss. So, the farmer has to give one irrigation and wait for seven or eight days until the field has the right amount of moisture. After that, he has to undertake ploughing through two rounds of disc harrow, cultivator and planking operations. Only on this finely-prepared seedbed can wheat sowing take place. But with THS, you can harvest paddy and sow wheat the same day in the development of the machine while he was with PAU.
  • The THS, however, had a problem because it couldn’t take care of the loose straw harvested by the combine. This residue as opposed to the standing stubble has to be uniformly spread on the field to enable efficient sowing of wheat. For this, PAU has developed a Super-Straw Management System (S-SMS), which is an attachment that can be fitted on any combine harvester. The S-SMS ensures that the loose straw thrown by the combine is also cut and spread evenly on the field. The concurrent use of THS and S-SMS technology appears to be the best bet for the moment.

Question– Stubble burning is a huge problem pertaining to air pollution. What can be the sustainable solutions to tackle this issue?

 

2.Pakistan-Iran-India vis-à-vis Chabahar port (Indian Express)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the ongoing tango between Pakistan, Iran and India. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • The operationalization of Chabahar port is significant because India has demonstrated its intention to play on the regional diplomacy, even while it balances its own relations with the US and Iran.

Impact on Pakistan by operationalizing Chabahar

  • The operationalisation of Chabahar port by India has triggered the panic button within Pakistan.
  • A new churning is taking place in the region, with India announcing its first shipment to Afghanistan, via the Chabahar port in Iran, and Pakistan’s army chief taking a delegation to Iran earlier this week for a series of meetings.
  • Has India’s Chabahar initiative caused Pakistan to re-engage with Iran? Or, is this a parallel development, addressing bilateral issues and the repercussions of Pakistan’s involvement in the Middle East?

Pakistan-Iran relation

  • Since Zia ul-Haq’s time, Pakistan’s relationship with Iran has been tense, indifferent and sometimes, even hostile. Zia’s Islamisation strategies were perceived by Shia Tehran as the deepening of Sunnization, creating new stress in the bilateral relationship and emphasising sectarian faultlines inside Pakistan.
  • High-level visits between Iran and Pakistan became the exception. Afghanistan soon became a much more important neighbour, with the US using Pakistan as a cat’s paw in its own war against the former Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Meanwhile, Iran-US relations went through the wringer, even as Teheran was bogged down with other issues in the Middle East.
  • Despite the continuing political tension between Iran and Pakistan, both countries drew closely together on two other matters. First, Pakistani nuclear scientist A Q Khan drew a willing Iran into his own underground network of nuclear linkages that served both sides well. Second, smuggling between the Pakistan-Iran border, especially along the Makran coast, began to take place.
  • But the political divide was exacerbated by Saudi Arabia’s expanding influence on Pakistan. Riyadh’s Islamic Military Alliance is now headed by Pakistan’s former army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif. Clearly, the Pakistani government isn’t terribly attracted to the idea, especially because its own Shias, between 30-40 million, are said to comprise about 10 per cent of the total 200 million population. Pakistan’s National Assembly has even discussed Raheel Sharif’s new job and pointed out that there is a need to go slow.
  • Was Raheel Sharif given the job because he was once the most powerful man in Pakistan and Pakistan is the only country in the Islamic world with a proven nuclear weapon capability ?.
  • Meanwhile, Teheran’s relations with Saudi Arabia began to deteriorate over the ongoing conflict in Yemen. Riyadh also seemed determined to isolate Qatar, in an attempt to consolidate its leadership in the Muslim Ummah. Its efforts to get the US on board this regional great game were enormously boosted with Donald Trump identifying Iran as the cause of instability in the Arab Islamic American summit in Riyadh in May 2017, even as King Salman looked on.
  • Certainly, Pakistan being a part of this Summit would not have gone down lightly in Tehran.

Chabahar sector

  • The operationalization of Chabahar port by India has triggered the panic button within Pakistan. As Delhi faltered in its execution of Chabahar in recent years, Pakistan was cynical and even sarcastic; meanwhile there was the China-supported Gwadar port as well as the Beijing-funded China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, both projects being described as a “regional game changer”.
  • With Chabahar now in the mix, the regional great game has taken a new turn. Chabahar is not far from Gwadar. As the crow flies, the straight distance is only 171 km, while the road route doubles it to 356 km. Second, Chabahar is more than a port, it is the starting point of a trade and transit corridor that could become parallel to the CPEC as it cuts across Iran and into Afghanistan. Third and most importantly, New Delhi has big plans for Chabahar, to connect it to the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and opening it up to the passage of goods into Russia and onwards.

Should India be worried: Way ahead

  • India’s political will to walk the talk with Chabahar has exaggerated the bilateral and regional predicament in Pakistan’s west. Islamabad would certainly like to repair its relations with Teheran. Gen. Bajwa’s visit to Iran must be seen in this context, when he met the Iranian president, its defence minister as well as the commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards.
  • The army in Pakistan has always been all-powerful, but a trend towards greater consolidation of power can now be clearly seen. Gen. Bajwa’s visit to Iran was preceded by a trip to Kabul, where he also met President Ashraf Ghani as well as the top Afghan leadership. Both New Delhi and Teheran, now connected through the Chahabar thread, must be closely watching.
  • But despite the fanfare of the visit, Gen. Bajwa did not succeed in getting a succulent joint statement with the Iranians. Whatever was made public is mediocre and focussed on border security between the two countries relating hotline communication, border fencing and patrolling, intelligence sharing etc. The fact that Pakistan has to talk about establishing hotlines in 2017 shows the level of communication so far!

Question–  What will be the implications of India’s move to initiate Chabahar port on other neighbours such as China and Pakistan?