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Sunday, June 4, 2023

As Delhi AQI deteriorates, let’s examine the crackers, stubble burning, MSP, new farm laws conundrum!

The air quality index (AQI) in Delhi has plunged into the severe category with a count of 404 in the early hours of Wednesday. Noida is even worse with the PM 10 count at 582 and PM 2.5 count of 511, much higher than Delhi.

The PM 10 count in Delhi is at 435 in the severe category and is only expected to deteriorate in the coming days of the week. It will cross the 500-mark during the day and worsen in the following couple of days, going up to the 522-mark. The PM 2.5 count is also in the very poor category at 247 and will worsen to cross the 300-mark in the coming days.

As per Safar India, AQI is forecasted to further deteriorate in Delhi to the higher end of the very poor category by Wednesday and Thursday and quite a few regions may even experience severe AQI for a shorter time period, especially during early morning. Surface-level winds are low and Westerly. Surface winds are likely to further slow down and surface inversion is likely to form.

Here is a snapshot of Delhi’s AQI over the last 30 days

Source: AQI.in

As can be seen in the chart above, AQI had improved to 136 (moderate) by 26 November, before worsening, then again improving to 145 by 13 Dec, and has again worsened now to severe/hazardous category.

Why is the air quality not improving even weeks after Diwali, which fell on 14 November this year,  even after the complete ban on sale and use of firecrackers during Diwali announced at the last minute by courts, National Green Tribunal and Delhi government? Weren’t we told that Diwali crackers are responsible for Delhi’s annual winter-time air quality struggle!?

In fact, pollution levels on Diwali and the day after were at its maximum in the last four years, despite the ban on crackers! Moreover, Delhi’s average AQI for November stood at ‘severe’ category at 328. And it has further worsened now in late December to cross 400 and is expected to deteriorate even more.

So why was air quality so bad in November before, during and after Diwali (despite the cracker ban), and why is it worsening in December? Could this report provide the answer –

“Delhi’s air pollution saw an uptick due to lesser rainfall and rampant stubble burning. A major factor was large-scale stubble burning due to early harvesting this year by farmers in the neighbouring states.

Punjab alone had witnessed 76,590 incidents of stubble burning this season, which were 55,210 in 2019. Maximum incidents of stubble burning were recorded between November 4 and November 7, according to the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI).”

As Punjab farmers are currently camped on Delhi’s borders, should Delhi’s citizens hold a counter dharna of their own demanding that those farmers explain the shocking 40% rise in stubble burning incidents this year, causing pollution which is choking Delhi to death? The farmers have also rejected fines for stubble burning, so Delhites should ask them how they plan to solve this recurring health hazard.

Now, the stubble that farmers burn is mostly paddy (rice) stubble which is burnt because of the short (10-15 days) gap between rice-harvesting season and the wheat-sowing time. And why do farmers grow rice in Punjab despite almost negligible local consumption? Because rice is covered under MSP (Minimum Support Price) and government procures almost 100 % cent of the rice produced in Punjab and Haryana. Also, government subsidies on water and power in these states makes it easier to grow a water-intensive crop like rice, but this has resulted in overexploitation of groundwater. Experts recommend effective and diversified cropping patterns are the need of the hour in Punjab and Haryana.

And the new farm laws do just that: encourage private mandis and contract farming so that farmers get better returns for their produce, and grow diverse crops as per market needs; rice and wheat stocks procured through MSP often rot away in FCI godowns, as production is way more than demand of the Public Distribution System or PDS.

To conclude, citizens of Delhi, NCR, Haryana and Western UP, whose health is most affected by the stubble burning, should actually convince Punjab farmers to accept the new farm reforms for a win-win situation. Or to put it simply – ‘sab mila hua hai ji!’ (it’s all inter-connected).

(With IANS inputs)

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