In recent times, Delhi has gained notoriety for having the most polluted air in the world. The situation aggravates during winter months (October to January) when the air is colder, and particles tend to remain suspended in the air for a longer duration. The primary cause for this is the practice of stubble burning in neighboring states such as Punjab and Haryana.
Farmers burn the stubble from their fields, and the smoke travels to Delhi, resulting in the air getting thick with smog. According to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), this year (2023), these fires have increased by 82%, making the situation even more alarming.
People have suggested that old laws like the Scrap Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act 2009 should be amended, and the traditional way of planting rice should be revived to mitigate the problem and restore clean air in North India.
This article examines why Delhi's air is so polluted, especially during winter, and how stubble burning adds to the problem.
What is stubble burning?
Let's talk about stubble burning – a big problem causing air pollution in South Asia. When farmers in places like Punjab and Haryana burn the leftover crops (stubble) in their fields, it releases terrible gases into the air, like carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur oxides (SOx), and methane (CH4) as well as particulate matters (PM10 and PM2.5) that harms our health and the environment.
This has been going on for a long time, but it has gotten much worse in the last 7-8 years, especially in north India. Now, why is this a bigger deal lately? Even though farmers have been burning crop stubble for ages, something has changed.
This old practice of stubble burning constitutes a significant contributor, accounting for 38% of the escalating air pollution crisis. It not only releases pollutants but also greenhouse gases, leading to environmental concerns. So, we need to determine what's different and find a better way to deal with leftover crops without dirtying the air.
Who must keep a check on stubble burning?
As Justice Kaul had observed, "Pollution is not a political game where one State shifts the blame to another depending on the ruling political dispensation. This pollution is a murder of the people's health." So, it is essential to check stubble burning to prevent further harm.
- Firstly, it is advisable that the responsibility should be fixed on DCs/DMs, SSPs and SHOs to ensure that there is no further stubble burning.
- Secondly, the Supreme Court's intervention is much needed when things get out of control; like recently, the SC has directed the State governments of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi to ensure that stubble burning is stopped as an immediate measure to protect the lives and health of people.
- As a long-term measure, the Bench of Justices Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia agreed with the submission made by the Punjab government to take steps to incentivise farmers to switch over from paddy cultivation to alternate traditional crops like millets by offering them the minimum support price (MSP).
Delhi Breathes Easier: A Splash of Relief Amidst Pollution Woes
Recently, parts of Delhi-NCR enjoyed a gentle rain shower, providing much-needed relief from the thick haze of air pollution covering the national capital. But, despite these showers, the overall air quality took a hit, slipping into the 'severe' category. Even as the Delhi government gears up for 'artificial rain' through cloud seeding, the city is still under Stage IV of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) due to the severe pollution levels. As a result, Delhi ministers are actively inspecting areas and borders to enforce anti-pollution measures.
Also read the article on Odd-Even Rule Returns: Can Delhi find Relief from Pollution?
Supreme Court takes the wheel: Odd- Even Rule Scrutinised
In a recent twist to the Delhi pollution saga, the Supreme Court is spotlighting the city's anti-pollution measures. Senior advocate Aparajita Singh, acting as amicus curiae, slammed the 'odd-even' scheme as unscientific, pointing out its failure to curb diesel vehicles.
The Court's intervention extends further, suggesting a ban on stage taxis outside Delhi during this critical period. Justice Kaul quizzed the Delhi government on monitoring incoming vehicles, emphasising the need for a thoughtful approach. It's an active move by the Supreme Court to take charge and combat the rising air pollution in the capital.