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Stubble fires surge in Punjab, Haryana; Delhi feels the choke

The impact of rising stubble fires in Punjab and Haryana was visible in Delhi-NCR where a layer of smoky haze lingered over the area Thursday with air quality in the region hitting 'very poor' levels.

It may be early days in paddy harvesting season in Punjab, but the state has already breached the stubble burning cases record for the last four years for the corresponding period between September 21 to October 15 every year since 2017.

The 25-day period this year saw 3,996 farm fires as compared to 1,217 in 2019, 773 cases in 2018, and 2,527 cases in 2017. The figures are based on data sourced from the Punjab Remote Sensing Centre, PAU Ludhiana.

The Haryana Pollution Control Board has reported 1,710 stubble burning incidents against 1,072 in the corresponding period last year.

Impact in Delhi-NCR

The impact of rising stubble fires in Punjab and Haryana was visible in Delhi-NCR where a layer of smoky haze lingered over the area Thursday with air quality in the region hitting ‘very poor’ levels.

According to SAFAR — the Ministry of Earth Sciences’ air quality monitor, farm fires accounted for 6 per cent of pollution in national capital.

“The wind direction is partly favourable for transport of smoke from farm fires and hence, an increase in contribution in Delhi’s PM2.5 is expected,” SAFAR said.

NASA’s satellite imagery also showed a large cluster of farm fires near Amritsar, Patiala, Tarn Taran, and Firozpur in Punjab, and Ambala in Haryana.

The silver lining

In Punjab, while the state government’s appeal to the farmers and village panchayats has so far not been successful to curb farm fires, the situation may take a turn for better as acting on the directions of district administrations, panchayats of various districts have started passing resolutions against stubble burning.

In Pathankot district, 325 village panchayats out of total 421 of the district have passed written resolutions against stubble burning in their respective villages. In Nawanshahr too, 341 panchayats out of around 467 panchayats have passed such resolutions.

In Pathankot, not a single fire has been recorded in the past three weeks.

Sarpanch Dev Raj of Lahri Gujjran village of the Pathankot district said that they passed a resolution on October 12 after convincing the entire villagers because passing of resolutions is relevant only if the farmers take that in letter and spirit.

Similarly, panchayats of villages including Balsua (389 acres under paddy), Sukhalgarh (365 acres under paddy out of total 430 acres of village agri land), Bhoa (950 acres under paddy out of 1250 acres), Sultanpur (325 acres), Govindsar (310 acres) Koghra (375 acres) etc. have also recently passed similar resolutions after taking all the farmers into confidence and taking promise from them against stubble burning. So far, no fire incident has been seen in these villages till date.

“There is around 50,000 hecatres area is under agri and horticulture crops in the district out of which paddy and Basmati is grown on 27,500 hectares ( 67,925 acres) which produces around 1.3 lakh tonnes (13 lakh quintals) of stubble and we have been trying to not to burn even any stubble,” said Block Agriculture Development officer Pathankot, Dr Amrik Singh, adding that a special drive to motivate the farmers, not to burn the paddy straw by organising awareness meets and WhatsApp groups.

Saving of this much stubble from burning means stopping the release of 2.2 lakh tonnes of harmful gasses in the environment, said Dr Singh, adding that also it saves around Rs 5 crore to the farmers in the form of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash farmers as less amount of these fertilisers are required.

“We are motivating them to sell their paddy straw to the dairy farmers who prefer to make fodder for the cattle, as there are a large number of people of Gujjar community who earn their livelihood from the milk and need stubble for making fodder,” he added.

Apart from Pathankot, Ludhiana district has also passed resolutions in around 90 per cent of its panchayats. In the past three weeks, Ludhiana has reported 108 farm fires and Nawanshahar recorded 15 fires. In Jalandhar too, several panchyats have passed resolutions against burning.

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