Agricultural stubble running into millions of tonnes is burnt by farmers in northern India every October. An estimated 35 million tonnes are set afire in Punjab and Haryana alone.
Winter’s coming, and Delhi’s annual nightmare is already taking shape beyond its borders.
Over a dozen cases of crop burning were reported from Haryana till Wednesday, and officials fear the number will rise drastically in the coming days. This, in turn, would trigger heavy pollution in the national capital region.
“We came across 14 confirmed cases of crop burning since September 22. While 12 cases occurred in Karnal on Wednesday, one instance each was reported from Panipat and Kaithal earlier,” said S Narayanan, member secretary of Haryana Pollution Control Board. Teams are sent to verify crop burning incidents as soon as fires show up on satellite images, he said.
Agricultural stubble running into millions of tonnes is burnt by farmers in northern India every October, before the onset of winter. An estimated 35 million tonnes are set afire in Punjab and Haryana alone to make room for the winter crop.
Experts say stubble burning accounts for anywhere between 12% and 60% of Delhi’s air pollution. The primary reasons behind farmers setting crop residue afire are cost concerns and the short time gap between summer and winter crops, besides lack of incentives and equipment to manually cut down the stubble.
Although the National Green Tribunal banned the practice in 2015, implementing the order has turned out to be a difficult task.
Even preventive exercises by various agencies, such as the Environment Pollution [Prevention and Control] Authority (EPCA), have come to naught.
The Haryana PCB launched satellite monitoring activities to detect crop-burning cases with the aid of the Haryana Space Applications Centre on September 22, and is believed to have already collected penalties amounting to Rs 5,000 from offending farmers.
Punjab PCB officials, for their part, have written to the Punjab Remote Sensing Centre to launch satellite monitoring from October 1. “No such incident has come to our notice yet. Crop burning is expected to start from the first week of October,” said a senior official with the board.
Meanwhile, red dots have already begun appearing on Nasa’s FIRM web fire mapper, which uses satellite imagery to identify fires on the ground. Officials in Punjab and Haryana, however, claimed that not all red dots imply crop-burning cases.
The EPCA is also pulling out all stops to ensure that the crop-burning situation does not go out of hand. “This year, we directed the pollution control boards of all NCR states to form patrol teams meant for visiting vulnerable areas and flagging violations,” said an agency member.
Though a recent National Thermal Power Corporation proposal to purchase agricultural residue from farmers had raised hopes of a less-polluted winter this year, authorities are doubtful if a business module can be developed in the few days that remain before crop-burning incidents start again.
In a desperate attempt, Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh recently sought from the Centre a bonus of Rs 100 per quintal on paddy as an incentive to dissuade farmers from burning crop stubble. Sources said Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar is also taking a special interest in ending the practice.