The fields of Punjab are again black with burnt stubble ahead of winter. The air is smoky, likely toxic. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi had blamed Punjab’s farm fires for air pollution in the National Capital Region (NCR) in 2021.
A year later, the AAP came to power in Punjab, and had promised it would control stubble burning. Now, two years later, stubble-burning in the border state is back again.
Sources said the AAP has not done any effective work to ensure the deadly farm fires do not return.
Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, calling himself the “son of a farmer”, had met farmer leaders to persuade them not to burn crop stubble. He had claimed many panchayats in Punjab even passed resolutions against burning of crop residue.
His Delhi counterpart and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal last year said, “I expect that from next year, stubble burning incidents will come down. We will take steps to ensure this. Both our governments are responsible for stubble-burning in Punjab.”
This year, Mr Kejriwal said case of stubble-burning have fallen significantly.
But Punjab farmers are back to burning crop residue at the onset of the harvesting season. Many farmers have complained that access to crushing machines like bailers and seeders are still unfulfilled goals.
Mr Mann’s call for crop diversification, too, has not been helpful as alternative crops are still expensive for farmers to afford. The farmers say they are not behind air pollution, but are also the victims of this menace.
Though farm fire cases have reduced in the past two years, over 30,000 acres were still set on fire last year. The number of farm fire cases reported in the past two years till now was: 2021 (320), 2022 (630) and 2023 (845).
The number of stubble-burning cases reported between September and October this year is as high as 845, up from less than 600 last year.
Delhi’s air quality has fallen from “poor” to “very poor” category, and the particulate matter PM2.5 levels are 60 times more than the World Health Organisation’s safe limit.
The graded action response plan (GARP) level 1 has kicked in and the impact in Delhi is clearly visible.
The first stage of the emergency pollution plan has led to a blanket ban on coal and firewood and restriction on truck traffic in Delhi.
The Air Quality Index (AQI) in Delhi was recorded at 231 at 9 am. An AQI between zero and 50 is considered ‘good’, 51 and 100 ‘satisfactory’, 101 and 200 ‘moderate’, 201 and 300 ‘poor’, 301 and 400 ‘very poor’, and 401 and 500 ‘severe’.