Fire incidents during the 2018 stubble burning season in Punjab and Haryana have reduced by almost 55% between September 1 and October 23 compared to last year, according to the latest data available with the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).
“So far this season, we have seen 4,338 incidents in Punjab, compared to 11,573 incidents last year,” an MoEF official said. “Though the last two days — 816 on Tuesday and 613 on Monday — have seen a spike in the number of incidents, which suggests that harvest is at its peak,” the official said. In Haryana, there have been 2,574 incidents so far, compared to 4,017 last year.
A data analysis by Hiren Jethva, a scientist at the NASA-affiliated Universities Space Research Association, also showed that between October 1 and 22, fires have been at their lowest in five years. Jethva used NASA’s MODIS and VIIRS fire data for the comparison. The latter is more sensitive in detecting fires.
According to Jethva, while 5,893 fires were detected during the same time this year, the figure stood at 12,194 last year. The year 2016 was the worst after 2014, when 16,275 fires were recorded. Jethva, however, said: “The worst period is yet to come in the last week of October and the first week of November.”
This year’s harvest has also been delayed. “Two spells of rain, on September 22-23 and September 27-28, meant the harvest was delayed by close to a week. Last year, by this time, 70 lakh tonnes of rice had reached the mandis. This year, it is 50 lakh tonnes, but within the next two to three days the shortfall will be met. The peak harvest season has started,” said KS Pannu, the Punjab nodal officer for the anti-stubble burning campaign.
An official at the Punjab Agriculture Ministry said next week will be crucial: “For the next one week to 10 days, if we can keep the pressure on, it is possible to reduce the fire incidents.”
According to the MoEF, political support and distribution of machines for in-situ management of crop residue in states neighbouring Delhi are among reasons for the improved figures. “It is true that sowing has been delayed this year, but the numbers show something is working on the ground,” said the official.
Earlier this year, over Rs 1,150 crore was allocated by the Centre for distributing machines in states such as Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. A Punjab government official said that the real-time nature of monitoring fire incidents has also reduced the duration of burning. “Since it is possible to monitor fire incidents using satellite data, teams are able to reach the exact spot within minutes,” said the official.
Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) research fellow Karthik Ganesan, who has been monitoring fire incidents via the NASA Fire Inventory from NCAR (FINN), agreed that the count is “significantly lower this year, so far.”
CEEW along with Purelogic Labs has placed 50 sensors on the ground in Punjab across four districts — two with very intensive rice cultivation, and the remaining with lower intensity.
The MoEF official said that even if the states record 12,000 fire incidents over this period, it will be a significant step forward. “Last year there were 40,000 incidents and it would have been impossible to bring that count to zero this year. But it could be possible next year,” he said.