Delhi’s Air Pollution
While Delhi is choking itself in the worst smog the capital is witnessing in 17 years, people are citing burning of crackers during Diwali, and increase in the number of vehicles as the primary reasons for the aggravated levels of pollution.
Indeed, both the facts above are responsible for such a woeful condition in Delhi. However, burning of crops by thousands of farmers in the states of Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh seems to have the most alarming impact on the pollution levels.
A recent image by NASA has shown such practice is continuing without any abatement. Despite National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) issuing of detailed order to curb straw burning, nothing fruitful has come up from the states in terms of a solution.
What is crop burning?
Farmers in Punjab, Haryana, and UP have been setting fire to paddy stubble in their fields after cultivating the crop as part of the slash and burn process. In these states there are two or more growing seasons — one from May to September and another from November to April. The farmers often set fire to the standing straw in the fields to clear them of crop residue. Crops are burnt around this time of the year because farmers have cultivated rice and want to prepare the fields for sowing wheat ahead of winter.
The NGT mentioned that the carbon dioxide levels in the air shoot up by 70% due to this practice. “The concentration of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide rises by 7% and 2.1%, respectively, triggering respiratory and heart problems. Also, it was stated that soil loses 6-7 kg nitrogen per ton, 1-1.7 kg phosphorus, 14-25 kg potassium and 1.2-1.5 kg sulphur due to stubble burning. In total, the loss of nutrients is around 1.5 lakh 12 tons per annum.”
How it affects Delhi?
The smoke rising from these fields reaches Delhi in a week and dust particles shroud the atmosphere. A combination of adverse factors like slow wind speed and moisture in the air becomes a major hindrance for the dispersion of suspended pollutants.
Smog can cause or aggravate health problems such as asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and other respiratory problems as well as eye irritation and reduced resistance to colds and lung infections. Children bear the highest risks from exposure to smog. They are more prone to respiratory ailments than adults. Smog also inhibits plant growth and can cause widespread damage to crops and forests.
Measures to curb the burning of seeds
To curb the burning of crop stubble, the government is promoting a seeder that can be mounted on a tractor and used to plant wheat without the need to dispose of the straw left after the rice harvest. But due to the heavy pricing of the seeder, most of the farmers are not able to afford this even after the government is providing half the money to purchase it. Another solution to this grievous problem could be to create a market for the excess straw. So far, seven power plants that generate electricity from straw have been built in Punjab, and six more are on the drawing board. But together, all 13 would consume only 1.5 million of the 20 million tons of straw produced in Punjab every year. The National Green Tribunal had demanded the government to put a check on the burning of crops and penalize the families espousing such practice. Yet no concrete solution has been provided in this regard.