Curses Ahead Of “World Environment Day” Turning 50

Who killed the baby? Who put fields on fire and why? Who spewed poisons in fresh village air? And, who robbed water underground? Moreover, will you only ban stubble burning without addressing the whole issue?


An 18-month-old girl, Roopa, who stayed in hutments of migrant workers, was charred to death after a fire broke out in around 40 hutments in Sundra village, Dera Bassi, on Saturday, May 14. “Fire officer Baljit Singh said mostly children were present in the area while their parents were away at work, when the fire broke out around 5.30 pm. Alarmed by the clamour, the victim, Roopa, ran inside her hutment …. Her parents, Ramvir and Chandani, who hail from Uttar Pradesh, were not home.” “A farmer, Jeet Singh, set stubble on fire in his field close by and owing to the heat, the flames quickly spread towards the hutments. After starting the fire, he had left the spot,” said fire officer Baljit Singh. “We are recording statements of the parents and will book the accused, Jeet Singh, under relevant sections,” said Jaskanwal Sekhon, station house officer (SHO), Dera Bassi” reports Hindustan Times of May 15, 2022.

Farmer Jeet Singh can be punished for not thinking at all about how and in which direction fire might spread if unattended and not controlled. And this led to the accidental spread of fire that burnt down hutments of migrant farm-workers and death of a child of farm-workers; no such deadly case was reported by the press at least in recent past.

Well. But will the print-visual-net media only point fingers at farmers for stubble burning that is taking lives even if indirectly by increasing pollution? But, then, tell us, why stubbles are there in the fields after harvesting? Who brought these harvesters in Punjab, in India and pressurised the farmers to use those machines which leave such stubbles in field? When? How it all happened everybody must know.

Came the Harvester Combines

In 1970 Harvester combines were first introduced in India. Farmers did not import any. Government managed their inception, introduction and growth. And the central government is still working for it. In 1971-72 there were only 800 harvester combines in India at maximum [1] and the number grew 50 times or more in 50 years. To hasten sales of this costly machines for the profit of manufacturing companies and also those rich capitalist landlords and/or machinery-providers in 2018 government moved harvester-combines from the list of ‘construction machineries’ to agricultural machineries’ [2] to lessen tax.

With the introduction of Green Revolution farming shifted more and more towards production for market, commodity production, away from so-called ‘subsistence economy’ – and simultaneously it brought calculations of ‘profit and loss’, ‘investment and return’ and etc in agriculture, even among very small scale operators what our economists call marginal farmers (land below 1 Hectare) or sub-marginal farmers (land below 0.5 Hectare), because otherwise they will perish as owner-peasants, and numerous peasants did perish as peasants in spite of all calculations as market is not at all meant for the society as a whole. Large scale Depeasantisation occurred and rising inequalities, which in turn also aided to, what is decently called rise in social conflicts. (In 1980s a publication of a University in Himachal Pradesh had a paper which provided correlation of rise in militancy and Depeasantisation for different districts in Pajnab.) Harvesters came and replaced manual Agri-labourers in cutting, bundling, carrying, threshing, packing, all…and for example in case of rice-paddies, cost of all the above-mentioned harvesting operations could be halved and for 1 hectare it can replace about 50-70 man-days (from a small dataset in West Bengal, 2010), making more unemployment and underemployment in villages and etc.

But that was only economics and we can easily see the ecological and human consequences — and of course all those learned persons, scientists, IAS officers, ministers, leaders of governmental parties and their foreign advisers who introduced Green Revolution in all the states cannot wash their hands now, cannot evade responsibility (including that inventor of the celebrated C2+50% formula). Manual harvesting never left stubbles more than 4-5 inches and straw (that was cut off and taken away) was also a valuable product, a product of nature and human labour, a food for animals, a material for roofing and etc. But whoever designed harvesters never considered these ‘petty’ things AND NOT EVEN THE NATURAL CONSEQUENCE – what will happen to the stubbles that harvesters leave in the field which are at least 12 inches! Moreover, this is in a country that practices intensive cultivation with cropping intensity in Panjab, Haryana and parts of others states more than 2 (near 3), farmers have to sow next crop within a month. You people lured the peasants to cut crops this way and you cannot tell those peasants to spend money and hire labour again to cut some 12–18-inch straw-stubble which would be useless. After the advent of tractors most village houses do not have any traction animal. Farmers were left with no other ‘no-cost’ way to get rid of these left-overs other than by burning. And farmers, farm-workers living in villages are left to inhale polluted air, not only citizens at Delhi-NCR. Those who propagated the green-revolution technology must bear the responsibility and cost of clearing this stubble. Just imagine a country launching satellites, moon-mission space crafts, Atom-bombs could not develop harvesting technology and blaming the farmers!

Why those who introduced harvesters and who make these machines will not be held liable and will not be charged according to “polluters pay” principle? What about those govt officials and ministers and all who did spread this menace, increased risk, increased pollution, took away an add-on income (straw) of the farmers.

Poisoning Air-Water-Soil & Depleting Water Table  

Next, off-season or summer (or BORO) rice-paddies: This was introduced in West Bengal and perhaps some other places too during late-1960s. Paddies were erstwhile cultivated during monsoon and depending on monsoon plus surface-water sources. From late-1960s and early-1970s submersible pumps were introduced to take up groundwater. Within a decade shallow-well-pumps started failing and only deep (or mini-deep) pumps could operate. Water table plummeted. In one of the older green-revolution districts of West Bengal new addition of deep or mini-deep tube-well was prohibited in 1995.

In Punjab and Haryana rice cultivation started and that too in off-season. In 1970 Punjab produced 0.5 million tonnes of rice and it increased 10 times within 1985, became 5.1 million tonnes and that again doubled within 2015 [3]. From less than 7% in 1970-71, agricultural land under rice cultivation grew to 33% in 2001.  Green revolution wheats and rice-paddies both have shorter straws, both were dependent on chemical fertilisers and very much dependent on insecticides, pesticides, weedicides etc poisons.

DDT in human milk was detected in Punjab in the mid-1980s! Not only organo-chlorides, there are many other varieties of POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants) all over the country. There are even such molecules among those who live about 50 years before breaking down. Where do the live? In Soil, Water, they also travel through air, and also, they are biologically absorbed in various life-forms including humans.

Off-season rice-paddies (and now seasonal rice-paddies too due to irregularities in monsoon) make farmers dependent of govt-irrigation and also, as can be seen in West Bengal since 1980s, water-lords, who sell irrigation water, water below ground, which is not at all theirs or anybody’s. This pumping huge amount of water had depleted water table and also increased Arsenic poisoning. A study published 13 years ago pointed at the grim groundwater scenario in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and NCR-Delhi, based on NASA satellite pictures [4].

The governments and its scientists and officers did not pay heed to anything, rather imposed the so-called Second Green Revolution, that of using GM (Genetically Modified) crops in many states including Punjab and Haryana.

Farmers unions protested. For example, on February 25, 2011, Times of India reported, “farmer union leaders Sukhdev Singh Kokri Kalan of BKU Ekta Ugrahan and Hardev Singh Sandhu of Kirti Kissan Union said that they would launch agitation to stop these experimentation which would play havoc on ecology and agricultural practices, Sukhdev said that while much hype was created about advantages of BT-cotton but now in the cotton belt of Malwa apart from increasing cost on insecticides fertilizers skin problems were also being reported which exposed the claims of champions of GM crops…” [5] And now, much hype of no-Bollworm infection by Monsanto, Pink Bollworms are devastating cottonfields and and farmers too years after years.

How can the managers of the society, the government, who introduced green revolution and made peasants dependent of corporates and rich-businessmen can hide their sins and their controlled media only blame the farmers for everything?

Undoing Green Revolution – an Imperative

It is not at all an easy task to switch-off green-revolution farming and go for natural-farming just like doing and ‘undoing’ things in computers or mobile phones. Green revolution has exhausted and robbed the soil, just to say one point only. The present market economy and the ‘culture’ it produced is not something that we can undo by a click. Minds have been changed and polluted for more than 5 decades. And no one can expect farmers do some miracle and get rid of all the malpractices introduced by green revolution in a short time. Even food-habit of people was being changed slowly for the profit of the corporate capitalists.

Cuba was compelled to go for natural farming due to a twin curse or blessing-in-disguise: Demise of Soviet Union that supplied Cuba with fertilisers, Agri-chemicals, machines etc, and the US led embargo. BUT then also they quickly developed Genetically Modified Farming practice which is very unnatural to say the least.

Much time and effort will be needed. Some experimental fields developed by some farmers and scientists and activists in several places in several states are increasing and will increase motivation for natural farming of course. National Millet Mission is also trying to change farming practices in a way. But countrywide transition is no easy task.

Nonetheless, stop blaming farmers leaving aside who brought in these agricultural practices of green revolution AND provide non-polluting stubble management service to the farmers free-of-cost.


[1] “Combine Harvester: Opportunities and Prospects as Resource Conservation Technology”, Singh, MK & Singh, Shiv & Kushwaha, H. & Singh, Mukesh & Ekka, Utpal (2020). RASSA Journal of Science for Society 2(1): 53-57, April 2020

[2] Combine harvester added agricultural implement category will have lower tax, Times of India, Amritsar edition, October 7, 2018

[3] “Revisiting the impacts of Green Revolution in India” by Laljeet Sangha, Institute of Policy & Governance, Virginia Tech, USA

[4] “Satellite-based estimates of groundwater depletion in India” by Matthew Rodell, Isabella Velicogna & James S. Famiglietti, NATURE| Vol 460|20 August 2009

[5] Times of India, February 25, 2011, articleshow/7575103.cms

Sandeep Banerjee  is an activist who writes on political and socioeconomic issues and also on environmental issues. Some of his articles are published in Frontier Weekly. He lives in West Bengal, India.  Presently he is a research worker. He can be reached at [email protected]



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