While Punjab has come under fire for the smog that enveloped the northern region this harvest season, with the state even facing the ignominy of having to reply to a notice from the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on the issue, a study has found that active fires during this period —much of it lit by farmers attempting to get rid of paddy stubble — had reduced by a significant 38 per cent in the state this year.
The study, conducted by Punjab Remote Sensing Centre (PRSC) – under the state agriculture department, is based on satellite images released by NASA. The images are obtained through MODIS (or Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer), a key instrument aboard NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites.
The researchers have studied images captured between October 15 and November 15 (peak harvest season for paddy in Punjab) in 2014 and 2015. As per their report, the satellites captured 12,368 active fires in 2014 but only 7,553 during the corresponding period this year – a 38 per cent decrease.
The number, however, is still dangerously high.
Much like last year, Sangrur, Ferozepur and Ludhiana districts are the worst offenders this season but even they have shown a drastic reduction in the number of fire spots. While in 2014, 1,413 fires were spotted in Sangrur, it has reduced to 791 this year; in Ferozepur, it has reduced from 1,143 to 762 fire spots while in Ludhiana it has come down from 1,291 to 729 active fires.
None of the districts crossed the 1,000-mark this season.
All districts in Punjab barring Pathankot have witnessed a reduction in active fire spots (see graph).
The hilly district of Pathankot, as per the study, had 11 fire spots this year as compared to three last year. The scientists said this is a minor development as the district hardly practices paddy farming due to unsuitable topography.
The NASA images has also shown that the fire spots across the state last year, 4,509 between October 29 and November 4, is higher as compared to the corresponding period this year (2,100). Similarly, between November 5 and 11, the number of fire spots was 3,734 last year, which has come down to 2,367 this time around.
But from November 12 to 15, the numbers have risen this year – 1,149 active fire spots across Punjab – but even then they are less than the 1,255 recorded last year.
The final report of this study would be submitted to Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB), which sources said has asked PSRC to assist it with in-depth analysis of stubble burning images released by NASA owing to the recent embarrassment the state faced in way of the National Green Tirbunal notice.
Speaking to The Indian Express, PRSC director Dr B Pateriya said: “The actual number of fire occurrences may vary in the ground but the study is a true representation as observed over the satellite images. Our teams are also in the field and match the satellite images with ground report using GPS systems. The numbers have reduced to great extent but Punjab is still burning and lot more needs to be done”.
PRSC is working in coordination with NASA and ISRO to procure the detailed images and analyse them for PPCB.
PPCB member secretary Babu Ram said a project of Rs 358 crore is pending with the Centre, which when released would allow the state to provide subsidies for bailers and biomass plants. “We have a meeting on Friday, to discuss the setting up of ethanol production refineries using stubble which will be used by companies in petroleum sector. The PRSC study will help us in identifying target districts but it is not practical to use satellite images in identifying farmers’ fields and book them,” he claimed.