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Fields in Haryana and Punjab are on fire again, despite extensive awareness programmes, punitive action and subsidies to farmers.The governments of both states have been recording a steady rise in agricultural stubble burning over the past three weeks, with chairperson of the Punjab Pollution Control Board, K S Panna, saying that more instances are expected to be recorded this week.
“We have issued over 400 challans already. Most of these are from Mansa, Sangrur, Bhatinda and Ferozepur areas. The number of cases are almost the same as last year, despite the massive awareness programme we undertook,” he said. Officials said Haryana has fared slightly better. According to S Narayanan, member secretary of the Haryana Pollution Control Board, satellite data shows that instances of agricultural stubble burning are down 15% as compared to last year.
“The total number of incidents identified by our district-level teams (this season) is 581, and Rs 4.07 lakh has been collected as compensation. A reduction of around 15% has been observed in burning instances as compared to last year, as per our satellite data,” said Narayanan.
Wheat is harvested in this belt during the last week of April. The stalks left behind after harvesting are then set on fire by farmers to prepare for the next crop, adding to air pollution in the entire region from Punjab to Uttar Pradesh. According to experts, stubble burning in April and May is not as noticeable for several reasons.
“The warmer weather and higher average wind speed mean that particulate matter and polluting gases do not accumulate over Delhi. This is at complete variance with the situation in winters, when the lack of both these factors means that Delhi becomes a sink for pollution,” said a senior Delhi Pollution Control Committee official.
The harvest season this year has been delayed by a week, added Panna. “Stubble burning is not as big an issue in the summer because farmers have a two-month window between the wheat harvest and paddy sowing. This time can be used to clear their fields manually or with the help of machines. This window is not available in October as the wheat crop has to be sown by November-end. Despite this window, however, many people still prefer to set fire to their fields,” he said.
Experts, however, said that even though the region does not see a lot of pollution during summers, the problem on the ground needs to be addressed.
“Summers are no doubt better than winters when it comes to air pollution parameters. But if we are not able to contain stubble burning during this time, winters will be worse. The Centre has provided solutions to state governments, including subsidies and better methods to tackle agricultural refuse. The challenge is of scalability and implementation,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment.