–Kakali Das |
Delhi’s air pollution is at its peak in the very first week of the month with an air quality index of 486 (between 400 and 500 is severe) signalling that such pollution levels can cause issues and problems to people who not only have underlying issues but the healthy ones too. In fact, the IMD (India Meteorological Department) has now said that things aren’t going to improve in the next couple of days. According to the data by the Punjab Remote Sensing Centre (PRSC), around 40,000 incidents of stubble burning have been reported so far this year. The contribution of stubble burning in Delhi’s pollution is nearly 40% and according to a report by SAFAR, 4,135 farm fires were reported over Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Uttarakhand. The farmer leaders have now said that stubble burning in Punjab will continue for next ten days, at least, until the harvesting is done.
Unfortunately, every year, during the winters is when we talk about air pollution in Delhi. The news by The Hindu says that air pollution is caused because of 42% contribution of stubble burning. No doubt stubble burning has major contribution to make to Delhi’s air quality and on any given day because it is an episodic source of pollution the contribution of stubble burning can range from 2% to 5% to 42%. No sensible citizen or an expert will say that stubble burning is good; it needs to be stopped but – Is stubble burning the only source of pollution in Delhi? No. Stubble burning is an episodic source of pollution; it occurs for around 30-45 days in a year. Whereas, there are continuous sources of pollution which exists 365 days a year. Of course, stubble burning will have major contribution to make in this month depending on the wind speed. The air quality of Delhi has been extremely severe in the last two days, primarily not because there was an overnight spike in stubble burning but because of low wind speed and containment in the area. The dispersal capacity of Delhi is very limited and because of that the pollution resides. It means that the local sources of pollution in Delhi that exist and pollutes 365 days a year are more dangerous than stubble burning. Rather than shifting the narrative and solely talking about stubble burning, which indeed needs to be stopped, a holistic, comprehensive, collective understanding of all the sources of pollution is utmost necessary. Unless and until we actually acknowledge the problems and the various sources of pollution we won’t be able to solve the problem relating to it.
It has become a convenient political narrative to blame the farmers alone for the polluted air in Delhi. On being asked the reason behind why the farmers burn the stubble each year, Vimlendu Jha, Environmentalist & Social Entrepreneur said,“This isn’t an old tradition, it all started because of the lack of water, due of which the sowing month got shifted. The reason why the farmers actually grow rice when they don’t even consume the same is because of the guaranteed price that is provided by the government on the particular crop; tons of rice is exported in our country each year. Lack of water, guaranteed price of the produced rice, insufficient incentive or infrastructure for the farmers, and theblame that the entire environmentalism or the responsibility to combat air pollution or to maintain air quality of Delhi-NCR laid on the citizens is extremely unfortunate. Almost 30% of air pollution in Delhi is because of vehicles. There is construction demolishing dust, roadside dust, open burning of garbage and at least 12 coal thermal power plants in the immediate periphery of Delhi. There are thousands and thousands of trucks, hundreds and hundreds of Industries flooded in it, along with 13 hotspots by the day that are more polluting than anything ever imagined. So in the month of October when the people in Delhi wake up to pollution, they waste their time discussing an issue called stubble burning and unless and until we discuss 365 days’ air contamination, no issues of air pollution would ever be resolved.”
In the beginning of October there was a talk about a bio-decomposing process which could be a solution. “But we only look for a Band-Aid solution for a problem like stubble burning, and never for the one which is deep rooted and extreme and linked to agricultural crop practice, guaranteed price, water scarcity. The government through these decomposing techniques might be able to solve a fraction of a problem in an interim level but not the root causes of it”, Mr. Jha further said.
In fact, while we have been struggling to survive the pandemic with the medical fraternity warning us that Covid19 plus air pollution is double whammy and so is extremely lethal, our government should have thought of a solution or plan to prevent the citizens from it, rather than merely coming up with the fancy press releases by the central government and the respective state governments. Delhi is a land-locked state; there is a lot of urbanisation, because of which air gets trapped and therefore the dispersal capacity of air is very limited.The climate, atmospheric condition of Delhi is dangerously contaminated and the in-house pollution plays a pivotal role in it. Most of the studies and the IMD reports have actually said that the 13 hotspots that Delhi have plays an important role and that there is low wind and a lot of accumulation of pollutants in the lower strata of our atmosphere over Delhi.