A public health emergency has been declared in response to the exacerbating air pollution All schools have been shut down until the 5th of November All types of construction and industrial activities have been stalled for the next ten days The odd-even scheme is set to resume from the 4th of November again So it is crystal clear that the life-threatening season of air pollution has returned The question that arises here is why does this recur every year?
Compared to last year and upon analyzing the data, is our situation getting from bad to worse or is there a perceptible improvement? What are the reasons behind this and what could be the possible solutions for this? Come, let us analyze Here, I’m just focussing on Delhi but the truth remains that air pollution is a national issue that covers the entire north Indian region- from Punjab, Haryana, Delhi until Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and even West Bengal If you look at the data of Central Pollution Control Board as of 20th October 2019,
Varanasi was the country’s most polluted city Call it fortunate for Delhi, or call it unfortunate, our media remains primarily focussed on Delhi Due to which there is a Graded Response Action Plan that is run when the pollution remains above the severe category for 48 hours or more
Graded Response Action Plan
When which schools are shut down, construction activities are stalled and measures like odd-even are taken It is very unfortunate for the other states that no such measures are taken and air pollution is not made an issue because the media does not focus upon them It does not treat it like a national issue There is a government agency called SAFAR that comes under the aegis of Ministry of Earth Sciences
The full form of which is System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting This government agency monitors the air quality and conducts a lot of research regarding it According to the data of SAFAR, as on November 1st, 2019, the pollution pervasive in Delhi today, 46% responsibility of that lies upon the stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana Between 2016-18, the incidents of stubble burning were on the decline But there was an increase of 40% in 2019
It is difficult to ascertain what the reason behind their increase could be but I would blame the governments of Haryana and Punjab Because they have been ineffective in compensating the farmers in order to give them an incentive to stop stubble burning A question might arise in your mind as to why Stubble burning is done in the first place and why did it not happen 50 years prior to today?
How Did Stubble Burning Start Happening?
The reason behind this is simple: Combined Mechanical Harvesters 50 years ago, when the farmers had to harvest their crops, they did it manually The farmers harvested the crops one by one The mechanical harvesters began getting popular from the 1990s When they harvest the crops, they leave behind the stalk of the crop which is around 2 feet high They do not cut the crops close to the ground
They cut it from 2 feet above What this leads to is the presence of the remnants of the stalks inside the soil In order to save their time and money, the farmers, instead of cutting the remaining stalk, set fire to the entire farm so that a new batch of crops could be grown as soon as possible After 2009, the stubble burning became even more popular when the Punjab and Haryana governments, in order to conserve water, passed a law under which, they directed (the farmers) to delay the sowing of crops until the monsoon season
So if the farmers delay sowing, the harvesting would also have to be delayed So the time between harvesting the last crop and sowing the next crop lessens So then the farmers thought that the simplest way was to set fire to the stubble Because there remains a gap of only a few days between harvesting the last crop and the sowing season of the new crops When the issue of pollution began being raised over the past few years, and the people realized that pollution is caused by stubble burning, then the governments of Punjab and Haryana tried different methods to curtail stubble burning
Fine For Burning
First, they thought of fining the farmers that indulged in stubble burning It was a fine pf Rs 5000 / acre But this proved to be ineffective and a failure because a lot of farmers realized that it would be cheaper to pay the fine as compared to not setting their farms on fire Another solution proposed that instead of burning all the stubble, we could put it into a biomass plant and generate electricity
Collect and Use Stubble
It has been estimated that if we don’t burn all the stubble, then around 2500 Giga Watts of electricity can be produced in one year But even this solution is not being implemented properly and no such incentive is being provided which would help put it into action This has been attempted at some places, but it is not being adopted on a large scale
The third solution that has been tested out is happy seeder is a machine that states that there is no need to cut the remaining stubble nor is there a need to set the farms on fire You let it remain as it is This machine would spread the stubble out and use it as a fertilizer and you can sow the seeds of the next crops over it That is, utilize the remaining stubble as a fertilizer So there are a lot of solutions regarding this but there lacks awareness amongst the people and there are no visible intentions on the part of the government to implement these solutions So there’s positive news that this has been dropping in Delhi In fact, it has dropped by 25% if you compare the average pollution of the three years in 2012-13-14 as compared to the average pollution of the three years in 2016-17-18 One important criteria of measurement that I’d like to draw your attention to is that when we measure pollution, we can do it by a lot of different methods
One- we could look at the hourly rate: that is, what reading did the pollution meter record in one hour Another- we could observe the daily pollution rate We could check the pollution level of every hour and divide it by 24 hours to get average daily pollution Another one could be observing it Yearly as I’ve already mentioned We could average out the daily pollution to calculate how much pollution is taking place in a year So the per hour pollution measurement is quite important because it tells us the impact of events like Diwali upon pollution levels Because, if you average out by the other days, then it would not be a correct comparison because nobody bursts crackers in the morning on Diwali- they are burst during the evening So the increase per hour would tell us how much of an impact the firecrackers have on pollution levels