We all are aware of the issue that Delhi-NCR faces during this time of the year. Each year, during these months, the stubble burning in the states of Punjab and Haryana causes a lot of ruckus. Farmers of these two states burn paddy stubbles to prepare their field for the next harvest crop, wheat. Initially, after the crop is cut, a foot-tall crop residue is left, and farmers set it on fire. The farmers are compelled to do so because they do not have any cheap or feasible option available.
The burning of crop residue creates an imbalance in the atmosphere – as it leads to a very thick layer of smog in the sky, and makes it harder to breathe in. Last year, the burning had catastrophic effects on the air quality in Delhi as well on the health of people. The Government of Punjab and the Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh have been working towards encouraging the farmers to stop stubble burning at all costs, and have also provided them with the agro-equipments which will help the farmers to a large extent.
To understand more about the issue and what the students in Delhi think, I visited Jawaharlal Nehru University and talked to some of them regarding their understanding on the stubble burning and if they feel it has gone down a bit this year or any improvement in the air quality has been seen so far. I was looking to interact and understand what students who faced a lot of trouble last year while travelling from home to college with their masks on think.
Rahul Kumar, a student from the School of Languages and Literature initially was a bit hesitant in explaining things, but he feels there should be awareness among people about specific issues which need immediate management. Rahul travels to the JNU campus from Noida to Hauz Khas every day through metro and autos to reach the institute. He said, “Definitely, the pollution in Delhi is a little better this year than it was last year. I am not using masks as of now. Cannot say if I will use a mask next month, but right after Diwali the situation might be bad because of the firecrackers and everyday pollution.” I also asked him about the issue of stubble burning, and he said, “Do you really believe that the sole cause of pollution in Delhi is the farmers of Punjab and Haryana burning crops? Not exactly. It will not be correct to say that the root cause of the pollution that Delhi grapples with is stubble burning. It is also because of the dust, vehicular pollution and other factors. The burning of paddy straw is the cause for the smog this time around the year, but it’s not solely responsible for the pollution in Delhi-NCR”, he further added.
While many students blamed the Delhi government for not ensuring and controlling the pollution in Delhi and waiting till Diwali for the situation to worsen, some praised the Chief Minister of Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh, and the strict steps taken by his government to combat stubble burning, and creating awareness amongst farmers.
Ridhi Billa who is an MA student from The School of Languages and Literature JNU travels every day from Govind Puri to JNU by auto and shared her experiences of Delhi’s deteriorating air quality day by day. When I asked her how she feels about this year as compared to last year, she was pretty much in agreement with me on the improved air quality this month of the year, since October and November are the months which witness farmers burning stubble followed by the pollution in Delhi post-Diwali. She said, “It is better this year as compared to last year, though I am not very much aware of the numbers, I feel the air quality is better. It is not harmful.”
Adding on to that, she further replied, “I will not say that all the pollution which comes in Delhi is because of stubble burning only, because the daily traffic, congestion, atmospheric conditions, dust and construction work are equally contributing to it. To blame the farmers for the pollution will be wrong on our part. We need to educate people of Delhi about the adverse effects of bad air quality majorly after Diwali.”
According to the satellite images of NASA, there has been a drop in stubble burning in the state of Punjab and over 50% fall in the burning cases has been witnessed so far. Fire incidents during the 2018 stubble burning season in Punjab and Haryana have reduced by almost 55% between September 1 and October 23 compared to last year. So far, this season has seen about 4,338 burning incidents in Punjab, compared to 11,573 incidents last year.
Concrete steps taken by the Punjab government to ensure no such burning which creates an unbearable atmosphere for the people takes place have been fruitful till now. The Chief Minister has also launched three mobile apps (i-Khet, e-PEHal, e-Prevent) along with the participation of 8,000 village nodal officers to monitor stubble burning in Punjab.
The numbers and figures show significant development in the prevalent practice, but what’s still left to see is whether the government will be able to monitor the fire incidents in Punjab and contain the air pollution levels in Delhi in the coming months or not.