Paddy stubble burning is once again polluting the capital’s air, with its share jumping from 1 per cent to 6 per cent in span of 24 hours, according to latest data. Though still lower than other pollution sources, it has nevertheless triggered a war of words between Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Data from System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) under the Ministry of Earth Sciences showed that the share of stubble burning in PM2.5 of Delhi-NCR was 1 per cent on October 14, and rose to 6 per cent in October 15.
SAFAR data showed that between October 10 and 13, share of stubble burning in PM 2.5 of Delhi-NCR hovered between 2-3 per cent.
The surge in the share of smoke from stubble burning over Delhi’s air could be attributed to sudden increase in fire events in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, as the window of wheat sowing draws closer.
Jump in Farm Fires last 14 days
Data from Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI’s) Physical Research Division showed that on October 14, satellite events detected 711 residue burning events in Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh, which was 103 per cent more than the burning events recorded in October 13.
In total between October 1 to October 14, when the burning events were started to monitoring around 4015 burning events have been recorded in the states of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, which was 89 per cent more than the same period last year, the data showed
In them, Punjab, lead the way, with 3029 events, comprising of around 75.4 per cent of the total fire burning sites, followed by Haryana 737 events and western UP with 249 events.
The total incidents of fire burning in Punjab, this year was around 254 per cent more than last year between October 1 to 14, while in Haryana, it was 26 per cent less than last year and in UP it was around 8.11 per cent less than last year. (see chart)
Some scientists said the advancement of paddy procurement season by 15 days by the Central government due to early arrival of crop could be reason why farmers are rushing to clear their fields in Punjab, while others said the sudden rush of farmers in Punjab to plant potato after by harvesting their paddy crop could also be factor.
War of Words
Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar meanwhile was engaged in war or words with Delhi Chief Minister over the share of stubble burning in Delhi pollution.
While, Javadekar that only 4 per cent of pollution in Delhi-NCR is due to crop residue burning as the rest is due to local factors, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal strongly criticized him saying that "being in denial will not help."
Taking to Twitter, Kejriwal wanted to know why pollution has suddenly increased in Delhi-NCR in the last fortnight if stubble burning causes only 4 per cent pollution.
Aam Aadmi Party MLA Raghav Chadha said the CPCB's own estimate of 2019 suggest stubble burning contributed up to 44 per cent to the national capital's air pollution.
Javadekar earlier flagged off 50 inspection teams of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for field visits in Delhi-NCR to keep a watch on pollution hot spots during the winter season.
One solution which all scientists and policy makers including the Delhi government are eagerly looking at to deal with the recurring problem of stubble is bio-decomposers.
Bio-decomposers are a consortium of micro-organisms and other materials which when sprinkled over the stubble after mixing them in water fastens the natural decay of the paddy stubble left behind after harvesting of paddy.
However, senior scientists from the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR), who are spearheading the research say that it is too early to predict whether the bio-decomposers can be effective solution to machines as the time taken for the stubble to decay is more than a month, while farmers have a window of just around three weeks between harvesting of paddy and sowing of next wheat crop.
“Even if 70-80 decomposition happens within the short window of harvesting one crop and sowing of another, we will be satisfied as then the rest can be addressed separately,” a senior ICAR scientist said, adding that already the days of decomposition has come down from 70 days to less than 35 in last few years.