New Delhi: With stubble burning continuing unabated in several parts of north India, especially Punjab, despite the Supreme Court’s recent directions, pollution levels on Tuesday again crossed the “severe” mark in most parts of Delhi and surrounding areas.
The Delhi government has halted the odd-even vehicle rationing scheme for two days in view of Guru Purab celebrations.
At 12.30 pm on Tuesday, November 12, the overall Air Quality Index in Delhi stood at 417 as against 360 at the same time on Monday. The setting in of cold and moist conditions has added to polluted air staying closer to the ground.
Air pollution had dropped as wind velocity increased
The air pollution levels had earlier crossed the hazardous mark of 1,000 points on the Air Quality Index soon after Diwali on October 27. Thereafter the quality of air had started improving from November 4 when the wind velocity increased and the odd-even scheme was started in Delhi.
A few days prior to that on November 1, the Supreme Court appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority had declared a public health emergency in the Delhi National Capital Region and imposed a ban on construction activity and use of several kinds of polluting fuel.
The apex court also upheld this decision and on November 4 issued a number of directions, including a ban on all construction and demolition activities in the region, in order to reduce pollution. It also directed states where crop burning was taking place to stop such activities and threatened to hold public officers responsible for any violations.
SC told chief secretaries to stop stubble burning
Subsequently, the chief secretaries of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi were summoned by the Supreme Court which directed them to take all steps to stop stubble burning.
The court also directed that farmers be provided necessary machines to stop stubble burning and ordered the preparation of a comprehensive scheme within three months to take care of environmental issues.
In the following days, helped by strong winds, the air quality in the city improved significantly and the AQI dropped below 200 in most parts of Delhi and nearby regions.
Punjab reports more cases than 2018
However, with straw burning reaching alarming proportions in Punjab, where till November 10, 48.155 incidents had been recorded by the Punjab Remote Sensing Centre (PRSC), the air quality in Delhi NCR again started deteriorating from Sunday.
Incidentally, the cases of stubble burning in Punjab this year have crossed the 2018 number. As many as 40,774 incidents were reported till the same day.
In percentage terms, the incidents of stubble burning have been more in Haryana this year. But in real terms the impact on overall air pollution in the region has been lower because of Haryana since paddy is grown in only seven of its districts as against 22 of Punjab.
Too few machines have been distributed
Since the farmers resort to stubble burning as they are left with little time between paddy harvest and sowing of wheat, the governments have been promoting the use of various machines such as happy seeders, paddy straw choppers, super straw management systems and rotavators, to help them bury or use the straw instead of burning it. But while about 60,000 such machines have been distributed in Punjab over the last two years, their use has remained negligible. In the absence of funding, the farmers there do not want to spend money out of their pockets for them use.
In Haryana too, while such straw managements systems were supplied to 99.6% of the custom hiring centres, which are responsible for letting them out to farmers, only about 33% of them were actually supplied to the farmers. In Punjab, where about 30.7% of the CHCs received the machines, only about 34% of these were actually lent out to the farmers.
Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called upon the agriculture ministry to provide machines for dealing with stubble to the states. In 2018-19, the ministry had released Rs 269.4 crore, Rs 137.8 crore and Rs 148.6 crore respectively to Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh for the purchase of such implements.