Nasa satellite images show fewer cases of crop stubble burning in Haryana and Punjab between October 2-5 compared to the same period last year. However, farmers in the two states where paddy harvesting started last month said farm fires are likely to go up over the next week.
n A combination of satellite images by Nasa from October 3, 2017 (left) and October 3, 2018 show fewer red spots signifying farm fires in northern India.Paddy harvest started on September 15 and famers have now started clearing their fields of stubble to ready it for sowing wheat. Both states have banned stubble burning but farmers still do it because they don’t have the agricultural equipment to clear the fields quickly and manual field labour is expensive.
Crop stubble burning is linked to a sharp spike in air pollution levels in Delhi because it also coincides with the festive season when there is heavy traffic, burning of firecrackers and northwesterly winds, which bring pollution to Delhi from Punjab and Haryana.
The exact contribution of PM 2.5 from crop stubble burning to Delhi’s pollution levels has not been assessed yet.
The Centre allocated Rs 1140.3 crore in the Budget for agricultural mechanisation. The new policy for in-situ management of crop residue that includes combine harvesters with a separate straw management system — a cutter, spreader and a happy seeder for sowing of wheat.
More farmers now have access to the machinery compared to last year, which has led to reduced fires. Moreover, paddy output in Haryana and Punjab has also reduced because of untimely rains.
In August, Nasa sciences and exploration directorate published highlights from an ongoing research on the link between crop production, crop residue fires and air quality over northern India.
The study, authored by scientists Hiren Jethva and Omar Torres from the Universities Space Research Association, used data from the agriculture ministry to show that post-monsoon the rice production in north-western India increased by 0.18 million tonnes per year between 2002 and 2016. The rise is consistent with the rise in the number of crop fires in Punjab and Haryana, from about 8,000 in 2002 to about 16,500 in 2016.
Jethva also finds a parallel increase in aerosol loading (air pollution particles) during these years.
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has just started receiving data on crop fires in Punjab and Haryana. “The initial reports show fires are less this year. There are reports of only eight fires from Haryana so far. Though the wind direction is northwesterly there is no alert yet from Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) on any significant deterioration in air quality in the next couple of days. In fact, conditions will be favourable in Delhi for dispersal of pollutants on October 5,” said V K Shukla, in-charge of CPCB’s air lab.