WITH the paddy harvesting season slated to begin shortly, it is time for states like Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to take stock of the measures taken to prevent the burning of crop stubble, the main reason behind the rising air pollution in the National Capital Region (NCR) during the winter months. While the states have taken steps to deal with the problem, including punitive measures, dealing with violations will be a challenge, especially for Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, in view of the ensuing Assembly elections and the importance of farmers as an electoral constituency. Chief ministers of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi should meet at the earliest to chalk out a strategy to avoid stubble burning and address farmers’ concerns.
That the problem is acute in the region has been pointed out by several studies conducted over the years in the region which confirm the impact of burning crop residue and solid biomass on air quality. Checking air pollution should also be a priority because stubble burning leads to a host of respiratory ailments, a fatal combination in times of Covid-19, when many patients have died because of a crippling shortage of oxygen.
Using technology to harness agricultural waste can be a good start. Punjab has taken to the direct seeding of rice (DSR) method that yields less residue, utilises less water and makes do with labour shortage. A staggered sowing of paddy also gives the farmers more time to manage the crop residue. Delhi has installed smog towers and is pitching for the use of electric vehicles, considering that construction activities and vehicular emissions are a major factor behind pollution there. In Himachal Pradesh, Dr YS Parmar University of Horticulture & Forestry has come up with a technique to convert pine needles, a prime reason behind forest fires, into ethanol, a biofuel. The Commission for Air Quality has asked Delhi and neighbouring states to adopt satellite data from ISRO to chalk out an action plan in this regard. More such application of technology should be undertaken to reduce pollution and achieve the aim of clean air for blue skies.
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