Clearing the air: Battling stubble burning and smog in India

| Updated: 05 November, 2023 11:34 am IST
Delhi's AQI has dipped to great extremes

Every year, as autumn sets in, a thick blanket of smog reaches the northern regions of India, causing a shadow on the lives of millions. The culprits behind this annual environmental disaster are the burning fields of Haryana and Punjab, where farmers, desperate to prepare their land for the next crop, ignite stubble and inadvertently contribute to a dangerous mix of pollution.

To those who argue that stubble burning is a traditional method and the easiest way for farmers to clear their fields, we would say it was, but our world has changed. The health hazards and environmental consequences have grown significantly. We need to adapt to the times. The reasons behind the burning of stubble are logical — it’s a quick, cost-effective way to clear fields and prepare them for the next planting season. However, the cost we pay in terms of air quality, health issues, and the environment is extremely high. The rationale behind stubble burning no longer holds up when we consider the alarming rise in respiratory diseases, traffic accidents due to reduced visibility, and its impact on global warming.

Delhi’s air quality has deteriorated due to NASA’s 740 per cent increase in stubble burning from last year, with the Haryana government imposing fines of over 25 lakhs. Although straw burning incidents have seen a 57 per cent reduction since 2021, the state government must deal with the pollution on a war basis. Due to decreased air quality, authorities have imposed restrictions on construction activities and advised schools to conduct online classes. This step is in response to the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) to control pollution levels in the region, particularly during the winter months when air quality is deteriorating.

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The fine particulate matter and toxic gases released during these fires are not only affecting the health of people but also exacerbating climate change. This is where we need to examine our priorities. Yes, clearing fields is essential, but so is safeguarding the health of our citizens and the future of our planet.

Let’s address the concerns of those who may argue against immediate change. They assert that alternatives to stubble burning are costly and may not be accessible to all farmers. However, it is essential to recognize that, as a society, we must collectively invest in viable alternatives. 

The state government should provide financial incentives, subsidies, or even machinery for rent to farmers to encourage eco-friendly techniques such as mulching and ploughing instead of burning. One common objection is the lack of knowledge regarding alternatives. This is where public education and outreach programmes by the central government can be pivotal. Empowering farmers with information about sustainable practices can assist in overcoming the gap and enable a smooth transition. 

Central and state governments, environmental organisations, and the farming community must collaborate to find eco-friendly solutions to stubble burning. Public awareness campaigns should be launched to educate farmers about the alternatives, and financial assistance should be provided to facilitate the transition. By tackling this issue collectively, we can anticipate a brighter, healthier, and more sustainable future, and we can anticipate a brighter, healthier, and a more sustainable future. 

The moment to act is now.

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