Farm fires in Punjab peaked a day after Diwali, October 28, with 3,105 instances of paddy crop residue burning being reported from across the state in a single day. That and the fallout of firecrackers in Delhi has taken the air quality index (AQI) in the national capital to ‘severe’ levels — on Wednesday, it stood at 419.
The worsening air quality sparked a war of words between Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Punjab counterpart Captain Amarinder Singh.
At a press conference Wednesday, Kejriwal said: “I request BJP to talk to their governments in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and the Congress to speak to their government in Punjab to help out farmers and give them facilities to ensure they don’t burn crop stubble. The people of Delhi are doing what they can to control pollution… I have spoken to several people, including farmers, over the past few days. The farmers are ready. They don’t want to burn crop residue.”
Pointing to the neighbours
The effect of farm fires on pollution in the National Capital Region has taken a political colour, with the Delhi Chief Minister saying the governments in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh aren’t doing enough to address the problem. Whether his appeals to neighbours have an impact remains to be seen.
Singh hit back, calling the Delhi CM a “shameless liar” and termed Aam Aadmi Party’s proposed protest outside the Punjab Bhawan in Delhi on Thursday as “an obvious political stunt with an eye on the upcoming Assembly elections in the national capital”.
In a statement, Singh said, “The air pollution in the national capital is directly related to the rampant construction activity, widespread industrialisation and total mismanagement of the city traffic… By blaming others for his own lapses, Kejriwal is showing signs of his poor leadership.”
“If stubble burning is the primary cause of Delhi’s air pollution, as Kejriwal claims it to be, then how can he explain the atrociously high AQI in the national capital even during the months of December and January,” he asked.
Data from the Punjab Remote Sensing Centre shows that between September 23 and October 28, 15,132 active fire events pertaining to stubble burning were recorded in the state. A total of 24,593 incidents were reported during the same period in 2016; 16,533 in 2017; and 12,762 in 2018.
In Haryana, over 3,700 farm fires were recorded between September 23 and October 27 this year.
The total number of farm fires in Punjab so far this year stands at 26,830, and is expected to rise in the coming days. In 2017 and 2018, a total of 59,820 and 61,497 instances of crop burning were recorded.
On Wednesday, the share of pollutants in Delhi from farm fires in Punjab and Haryana touched the peak of the season at 35%. Delhi’s AQI first touched the ‘severe’ air quality in real-time this year on Monday evening, a day after Diwali, when PM2.5 levels crossed the 250 micrograms per cubic meter air (µg/m3) limit prescribed by the CPCB.
The central government’s System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) said the spike on Wednesday is “purely attributed” to pollution from stubble burning.
Speaking to The Indian Express, agriculture expert Devinder Sharma said the crisis cannot be resolved until farmers are provided with an economic stimulus package. He said farmers are ready to dispose of the paddy stubble without resorting to lighting fires if they are given Rs 3,000 per acre as labour cost.
The Punjab government has, meanwhile, announced several measures to sensitise farmers. Nodal officers have been deputed in nearly 8,000 paddy growing villages across the state to spread awareness and keep an eye on post-harvest operations.
Governments in Punjab and Haryana have been providing 50-80% subsidy to farmers and cooperative societies to buy modern farm equipment for in-situ management of paddy straw, apart from running an awareness campaign against stubble burning.
The governments have also been issuing challans against farmers found burning crop residue based on the size of the land they own, under a 2015 order of the National Green Tribunal.