Ahead of harvest season, officials meet to discuss air pollution

Environment minister Bhupender Yadav said between July and September, his ministry issued six advisories and over 40 directions related to air pollution prevention via the Commission for Air Quality Management in NCR and adjoining areas on all emission sources and how to control them
A farmer burns paddy stubble at Dhearhi jatta village on NH-7 in Patiala, Punjab, on October 29, 2020. (HT archive)
A farmer burns paddy stubble at Dhearhi jatta village on NH-7 in Patiala, Punjab, on October 29, 2020. (HT archive)
Updated on Sep 23, 2021 11:47 PM IST
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ByJayashree Nandi, New Delhi

Representatives of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Delhi met on Thursday to discuss the preparedness ahead of the harvest season when farm fires emerge as a major contributor to winter pollution in the region.

Union environment minister Bhupender Yadav said the meeting mainly focussed on the prevention of the fires, which are caused when farmers set alight paddy stubble left after harvesting. He added between July and September, the ministry issued six advisories and over 40 directions related to air pollution prevention via the Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region (NCR) and adjoining areas on all emission sources—industries, construction, and demolition activities, etc--and how to control them.

Yadav said he has spoken to Punjab and Delhi’s chief ministers, and they assured him they will do all they can to prevent air pollution.

He referred to stubble burning in the neighbouring states and said the main issue is that there is a very small window between the time farmers harvest paddy and when they begin sowing winter crop. “They are using a bio enzyme developed by Indian Agricultural Research Institute...which helps decompose stubble in around 30 to 35 days.” He added this year more solutions are being tried to address the issue.

Yadav said he cannot say how much air pollution will reduce this winter, but he was hopeful that there will be an improvement as many schemes were being implemented to deal with the problem. He added using stubble as biofuel is one of the important interventions this year.

But groups representing farmers said they have an even shorter window this time. “There was heavy rain in many parts of Punjab today also. Because of monsoon rains, harvesting and stubble disposal is unlikely for the next 15 to 20 days,” Harinder Singh Lakhowal, general secretary, Bharatiya Kisan Union.

“We have been asking the Centre to offer direct subsidies to farmers on per quintal basis so that they can manage the stubble themselves and not burn it. There will be stubble fires this year also. The bio-enzyme is not fully effective, it can help partially,” he added, saying that over a thousand farmers were also heading to Singhu border in Delhi to repeat their demand for the repeal of farm laws and increasing minimum support price of certain crops. “The government will have to listen to us,” he said.

The practise of burning farm residue sends up plumes of smoke that is carries by north-westerly winds to over Haryana, Delhi and parts of Uttar Pradesh. Here, this smoke proliferates and descends, blanketing a city like Delhi which has high urban air pollution, to create what has been described as a gas chamber.

Over the past five years, the situation becomes so severe that schools have yet to be closed and the administration has issued stay-at-home advisories for vulnerable people like children and the elderly. Pollution from Diwali firecrackers also typically makes it worse, and there has been little improvement despite it being an annual crisis.

Yadav said the National Thermal Power Corporation has floated a tender for 20 million tonnes of stubble for four years. He added in Gujarat’s Kutch and parts of Rajasthan, paddy stubble was also being procured for fodder for cattle.

Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar attended the meeting in his capacity as the state’s environment minister. Delhi’s environment minister, Gopal Rai, his Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan counterparts, Dara Singh Chauhan and Sukhram Bishnoi, also attended the meeting. Special chief secretary Anirudh Tiwari represented Punjab at the meeting.

A Union environment ministry official said the area used to grow Pusa 44 variety paddy, which matures late and leaves a lot of stubble, has reduced this year. “Punjab also ran a campaign...(that helped reduce)... the area under paddy (cultivation)...marginally. Overall area under Basmati (cultivation) has increased which normally does not cause trouble with stubble because it decomposes easily.”

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Sunday, November 28, 2021