Delhi-NCR remained under a thick cover of smog in the last few days after Diwali night, leading to poor visibility. There has been considerable anger among residents over the deteriorating air quality in the city. The rise in particulate matter has been attributed to fireworks on Diwali night, but this NASA image suggests that burning of crop stubble is considerably impacting the pollution levels. Farmers in neighbouring Punjab and Haryana have been setting fire to paddy stubble in their fields after cultivating the crop as part of the slash and burn.
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A NASA forecast shows high levels of ‘fires and thermal anomalies’ in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan. As per an NYT report, farmers are burning around 32 million tons of leftover straw. The National Green Tribunal had last year told the government to stop farmers from burning their crops. Towards the end of October, farmers begin burning the process of burning paddy stubble which leads to plumes of smoke blackening the skies. Another reason for the poor visibility conditions is because of a drop in wind movement and increase in humidity, which makes the pollutants remain close to the ground.
The practice of farmers harvesting the crops by hand is on the decline as most use combines to cut crop, which renders the stubble useless. To get rid of the stubble farmers burn the fields to prepare it for sowing the next crop. However, the practice of crop burning has declined by 21 per cent in the last three years, as per Haryana State Pollution Control Board survey done in 2015. The board and government are also working on a strategy to curb this problem and are planning to launch a pilot project for paddy straw-based biomass power project.
Similar reports of worsening air quality have been reported in Lahore, Pakistan. A report in Dawn newspaper stated: “Lahore on Wednesday remained covered in thick and grey smog, heavily loaded with pollutants which affected the air quality.”