Ready to choke Delhi again? Stubble burning begins again in Punjab, Haryana.

Farmers burning straw in a field. PC: Wikimedia Commons

Ready to choke Delhi again? Stubble burning begins again in Punjab, Haryana

Data from NASA’s (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) shows a progressive increase in detection of fire in areas that typically have farmlands.

By: News Desk

New Delhi, 26th Sept: Delhi might soon be choking again as stubble burning seems to have started up again in Punjab and Haryana. The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA), which has been appointed by the Supreme Court, on Tuesday, wrote to Punjab and Haryana chief secretaries, drawing their attention towards the issue of stubble burning and the need to urgently address it, according to a report in IE. The letter was written by EPCA Chairman Bhure Lal and it said that it seemed that crop residue burning had begun in the two states.

As per the report, the body chief cited data from SAFAR agency and wrote that Monday saw 42 counts of fire and this figure on Sunday stood at 20. It appeared that the fires had started after September 15, when no fires were recorded, he wrote. He was quoted by the report as stating that the impact of stubble burning on the air quality index (AQI) of Delhi would be minimal for the next three days, because the winds would not be supportive for the transportation and accumulation of the pollutants.

The letter further said that while at the moment, it was not impacting air pollution significantly, the season for crop burning has begun in the states and the issue needs urgent attention as per the directive of the apex court.

Every year, as the winter sets in, farmers in the northwestern states of the country, burn the stubble of their paddy crops in order to clean their fields quickly and prepare it for sowing wheat crops. The smoke caused by the fires then ventures over to Delhi, causing severe air pollution in the national capital during the winter months.

The EPCA head told the chief secretaries of the two states that the Supreme Court had specified the measures the states should take to manage stubble, in order to curb farm fires. Moreover, Lal told them to ensure that farmers can avail stubble managing machines at affordable rates.

The letter added that control rooms must be set up where directions can be issued as well as actions can be taken to tackle the issue.

Apart from the letter, the EPCA also met with the Delhi Pollution Control Committee on Tuesday over the 15 hotspots of air pollution in the national capital, which had been inspected by the DPCC in August and September in a bid to identify the causes and sources of pollution. After the inspection, DPC had issued directions to different agencies to ensure that the causes and sources of pollution are controlled.

Stubble burning poses a more serious threat this year, because a decline in air quality would make things worse for the national capital, which is already dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Every year, due to air pollution, people have trouble breathing properly, and this added to COVID-19, which also threatens the lungs of the patients, could become a problem if not addressed properly.

Data from NASA’s (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) fire information for resource management system (FIRMS) shows a progressive increase in detection of fire in areas that typically have farmlands.

Pawan Gupta, a research scientist at the Goddard Earth Sciences Technology and Research (GESTAR), Universities Space Research Association, said that the most number of fires, shown as red spots on the map was seen from Amritsar district in Punjab.

“Crop fires in the state of Punjab and Haryana have started appearing in India. This year, we will be supporting satellite air quality data analysis and forecasting through a community forum for better understanding the impact of such fires on local weather and environment,” said Gupta.

Data provided by Gupta shows that in the Amritsar district, between September 13 and September 16, five to seven fires were spotted through satellite monitoring. However, the number started rising and reached 26 on September 18 and on September 19 as many as 50 fires were spotted. On September 20, 62 fires were observed only in the district.

Apart from Amritsar, other districts in Punjab where stubble burning fires are being seen are Tarn Taran, Firozpur, and parts of Kapurthala, Mansa and Jalandhar, where every day, at least two fires are seen.

A senior official of Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) said that these fires were signs of ‘early varieties’ of crops being harvested. “We are hoping that the number of stubble burning cases will be less this year. Our teams are alert but these fires are yet to start,” the official said on the condition of anonymity. While the situation in Haryana is still better, fires were spotted in the districts of Fatehabad and Ambala.

Every year these farm fires usually begin in full-swing by mid-October, last year early fires were detected by September 25. By October 15, when monsoon retreats, winds change direction: they turn westerly and north-westerly, bringing in the smoke.

In Delhi, the average wind speed in winter ranges between one and three metres per second, which is nearly one-third the average speed in summer months. Delhi government data shows that last year stubble burning accounted for 44% of Delhi’s air pollution.

Delhi environment minister Gopal Rai said that Punjab produces 20 million tonnes of crop stubble out of which 9 million tonnes was burnt last year. In Haryana, 1.23 million tonnes out of 7 million tonnes was burnt.

With inputs from Financial Express and Hindustan Times

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