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How stubble burning has become the biggest culprit for poor air quality in Delhi

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New Delhi, Oct 15: As winter sets in, farmers in Punjab have begun harvesting the kharif paddy crop and preparing the fields for the winter crop.

Burning of paddy straw every year during October and November and wheat straw during April in Punjab and Haryana are the major contributors of air pollution in Delhi-NCR, as the smoke travels towards the national capital.

Representational Image

In Delhi, it mixes with the fog and creates a toxic smoggy winter every year. This yearly affair, not only makes it difficult for Delhiites to breathe but also turn the city into a gas chamber.

While road dust and pollution from heavy vehicles are primarily responsible for the noxious pall that sets on Delhi and other urban centres, the burning of paddy stubble by farmers to clear their fields for the next crop is considered to be responsible for 20% of the smog.

Delhi air quality deteriorates as stubble burning begins

The latest satellite images released by Nasa show an increasing trend in stubble burning cases across Punjab and Haryana over the past 15 days. The images show that with the change in season, farmers in the two states are preparing their fields for the next crop. This means they are burning stubble in their fields.

Stubble burning in fields is banned. But farmers cite lack of alternative to continue with the traditional and unscientific practice. The governments of Haryana and Punjab have so far not come up with any concrete actionable plan to deal with the challenge.

Why stubble burning?

Stubble burning is a common practice followed by farmers to prepare the field for sowing of wheat in November as there is little time left between the harvesting of paddy and sowing of wheat.

Burning of Rice straw and wheat residue is not necessary for the farmers because of the availability of technology and its higher economic value as dry fodder.

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Scores of paddy growers in Punjab and Haryana continue to defy the ban on stubble burning, claiming they are "compelled" to do so in the absence of any financial support from the government for farm waste management.

Lack of awareness

This is due to lack of spreading awareness among farmers, who are in a hurry to dispose of the paddy stubble in order to start fresh sowing from Rabi season. In some instances, in Punjab and Haryana, local village panchayats have allowed farmers to burn stubble, and in some other cases, they have threatened to cut the stubble and dump them in front of the Collector's office.

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Immediate action is needed to prevent farmers from burning stubble, otherwise it will be a repeat of previous years, when smog will set in with the early onset of winter in Delhi. Farmers say they are unable to bear costs for cutting off and transporting stubble for disposal, and burning them is the only way out.

Punjab to post officers to curb stubble burning:

Paddy is grown on 65 lakh acres in Punjab. After harvesting, about 20 million tonnes of straw is left on the fields.

It is estimated that 15 million tonnes of straw is burnt by farmers for to clear the fields and make them ready for the next crop.

With paddy ready for harvest, the Punjab government has directed the procurement agencies to ensure prompt lifting of the crop from markets.

Also, to curb the menace of stubble burning, the State has decided to appoint nodal officers in 8,000 paddy growing villages.

Is stubble burning the only solution?

Not really, but it is one of the easiest and cheapest method available to farmersas of now. There are other options we can look at:

The available paddy straw can be effectively used for power generation, which will go a long way towards overcoming the problem of disposal of crop residues and power deficit in the region.

Suitable machinery for collection, chopping and in situ incorporation of straw is required.

There is great potential for making investments in paddy straw-based power plants which can help avoid stubble burning to a large extent and also create employment opportunities.

Incorporation of crop residues in the soil can improve soil moisture and help activate the growth of soil microorganisms for better plant growth.

Convert the removed residues into enriched organic manure through composting.

The government can offer to buy stubble from farmers at a fixed rate, so that farmers can recover the cost of cutting off and transporting stubble. These can be used for rope making, and already some farmers have started doing this.

New opportunities for industrial use such as extraction of yeast protein can be explored through scientific research.

Emergency plan in place from today

An emergency action plan will be implemented from Monday to combat air pollution that has begun to show a trend towards very poor category, the Central Pollution Control Board said.

Under the emergency plan called Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), stringent actions are implemented based on the air quality of the city.

If the air quality lies in moderate to poor category- measures like stopping garbage burning in landfills and other places, and enforcing all pollution control regulations in brick kilns and industries would be implemented, an official official said.

If the air quality falls in the very poor category, additional measures of stopping use of diesel generator sets, enhancing parking fees 3-4 times and increasing frequency of metro and buses would be implemented, he added.

If the air quality falls in the severe category, additional measures would be implemented of increasing frequency of mechanised cleaning of roads, sprinkling of water on roads and identifying road stretches with high dust generation. If the air quality falls to severe plus emergency category, then measures like stopping entry of trucks into Delhi (except essential commodities), stopping construction activities and appointment of task force to take decision on any additional steps, including shutting of schools, are implemented.

The measures depending upon the air quality will be implemented from Monday.

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