Air Pollution

[op-ed snap] Up in the air — on stubble burningop-ed snap


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: The problem of smog in Delhi and how to deal with it


Stubble burning in North India

  1. The onset of the winter season has come to be associated with toxic atmospheric pollution in north India
  2. While road dust and pollution from heavy vehicles are primarily responsible for the noxious pall that sets on Delhi and other urban centres, the burning of paddy stubble by farmers to clear their fields for the next crop is considered to be responsible for 20% of the smog
  3. Why stubble burning? The rising cost of labour nudged farmers to adopt mechanised equipment that, while efficient, left behind much longer stalks of paddy than what the traditional practice of removing them by hand did

Reasons for air pollution in Delhi

  1. 80% of the atmospheric pollution in Delhi in winter draws from sources other than burning stubble
  2. Given Delhi’s geography, low wind speeds and a spike in local pollution (from vehicles, biomass burning, firecrackers, etc.) raise the particulate matter count dramatically during winter

Government plan to reduce pollution

  1. Under directions from the Supreme Court-constituted Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority or EPCA, the Centre is partnering with Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to provide farmers with a range of mechanised implements to clear their fields of paddy crop residue to prepare for sowing wheat
  2. There is a 50% subsidy to farmers, and a 75% waiver to cooperative societies, agencies that rent out equipment, farmers’ interest groups or gram panchayats to buy such machines
  3. Equipment such as Happy Seeder, paddy straw choppers and Zero Till Drill will be bought under the scheme

Concerns of farmers

  1. Many farmers, particularly those with land holdings of less than 5 acres, remain sceptical of the efficiency of these machines
  2. Among their concerns is whether these machines will affect productivity
  3. They are worried that there could be damage to the soil

Way Forward

  1. Just making technological tools available may not be enough
  2. There needs to be a proactive engagement to both persuade and reassure farmers
  3. The greater availability of machines and the zero-tolerance policy need to be seen as works in progress to derive lessons on how to refine the crop-clearing process in an ecologically sound manner

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