When I moped last week about the dust and haze in Delhi, I forgot all about the reason it’s so particularly horrific at the beginning of the winter: because farmers all over Punjab and Haryana are burning rice straw to clear the fields; and the smoke from this is drifting over to Delhi. This means that you actually see the air getting darker and more horrifying as you leave the urban parts of Delhi and enter the rural parts towards Haryana (whether towards Gurgaon, where I bicycled yesterday, or towards Sonepat, where I drove on Thursday). The urban parts might be nastier in terms of automobile exhausts pumping the air full of nitrogen and sulphur oxides; but the outskirts just look horrible.
The Times of India had an oped last week about how air quality is not the only ecological disaster that rice cultivation causes. It’s also sucking up groundwater, turning land fallow, and runaway power consumption.
For one, withdrawal of groundwater substantially exceeds annual recharge, with the result that the water table falls continuously each year. As the water table falls, each additional kilolitre of water requires more power for its extraction than the last kilolitre. The subsidy on power thus increases continuously and is met from the state budget.
In many regions the water table, which was initially less than 10 metres, has already fallen below 500 metres, leading to a huge adverse impact on state finances.
All things being equal, this would have hit a limit when power tariffs (or diesel prices for gensets) kept rising to respond to the demand. Or, additional power would have been generated.
However, thanks to a combination of subsidised power tariffs for agricultural users, state owned utilities, and agricultural landlords’ grip over politics in Haryana and Punjab, it hasn’t happened. The state owned utilities are too broke to put up new power plants or buy more power for that matter. All that happens is status quo, and less and less power availability, so everyone just starts running their pumps or factories on diesel gensets.
All this limited electricity supply being used to help produce something that isn’t that tasty, and could make me diabetic; when it could instead be used to power my Haryana factories hurts me personally.
The oped also cribs about the part Minimum Support Prices and FCI procurement rules play:
Coupled with attractive minimum support prices (MSPs) and policy directives to FCI to procure the bulk of its rice supplies from these two states, an irresistible economic incentive is created for the farmer to grow rice, rather than the alternatives – maize, other grains, pulses, horticulture, that are more suited to the natural ecology of the region.
The writers suggest moving to average cost pricing for power, hiking MSP for rice, and getting the FCI to purchase rice from eastern India instead of Punjab and Haryana to fix this problem. All well and good, and I hope this happens. But this works either on the supply or the intermediary side, and doesn’t really fix the problem of demand. And the problem of demand is this: Indians are obsessed with eating rice. If nobody was eating rice in the first place, it wouldn’t be getting sold in the private sector, non-FCI market.
How do we get people to stop eating rice? One way is to appeal to their better sentiments and point out that they’re just bringing horrible air pollution upon themselves. But in a society where people refuse to stop bursting firecrackers, even though with firecrackers they suffer the pollution effects of their behaviour directly and immediately, I have my doubts about whether this will work. We will therefore have to resort to guile.
I think the best way to discourage rice eating is with a flanking attack of shame and aspiration. When rice eating is shown to be a matter of shame, people will feel embarrassed about doing so; but also ask ‘What shall we do instead?!’ When an alternative is presented that is actually better and more aspirational than rice eating itself, this objection will also crumble.
Fortunately, this alternative already exists. The keto and other low-carb or no-carb diets preclude rice eating altogether. And they lead to awesome fitness and good looks, as seen in low-carber Hariflute.
Look at that sexy beast. Just look at him. That’s what you become when you cut out rice and switch to ghee and bacon.
So that’s what people have to aspire to when they cut out rice. But how to shame them into considering giving it up in the first place? For that, I think the impetus has to come from another Twitter heartthrob – @majorlyprofound, who has for many years now mounted a campaign of scorn against short, dark, small hearted rice eaters who can’t become fast bowlers.
If Major’s rants are more widely spread across the world (or at any rate in India), people will begin to refrain from eating rice for fear of becoming short and dark. In North India, which is where the devastation caused by rice cultivation is the worst anyway, we could even accelerate this campaign of shame by pointing out that rice is for cowardly monkey-cap wearing Bangaalis and traitorous Madrasis who refuse to speak Hindi. Yes, this is a course of action that plays on lamentable stereotypes, but fuck it, those stereotypes are there anyway, and we might as well put them to good use in cleaning up Delhi and Haryana’s air.
The time has come for a Biryani and Basmati Boycott. Are you with me, comrades?!