New Delhi, Nov 4 (SocialNews.XYZ) As the festive season approaches, the alarming rise in air pollution levels demands our immediate attention. The festivities may bring joy and togetherness, but they also tend to exacerbate the already critical air quality issues.
Stubble burning, a major contributor to this problem, looms large, demanding a sustainable solution.
Speaking to Chandra Bhushan, founder-CEO of International Forum for Environment, Sustainability & Technology (iFOREST), IANS explores the importance of addressing stubble burning and its dire consequences on air pollution levels in Delhi and its surrounding regions.
Stubble burning is a significant contributor to pollution in Delhi and surrounding regions, currently accounting for a staggering one-third of the pollution in the national capital, which can go up to 50 per cent in the next few days.
This alarming statistic highlights the urgency of finding a sustainable solution to this problem.
Bhushan said that contrary to common belief, not all farmers burn it; only about 25 per cent of the paddy residues are burnt in Haryana, which goes up to 50-60 per cent in Punjab.
Also, what is primarily burnt is stubble -- the short stalks that remain in the ground after paddy has been harvested.
The most important factor for burning stubble is the technology used for harvesting. Farmers using Combine Harvester are most likely to burn the stubble, whereas those practising manual harvesting don't burn it.
Combine Harvester cut the grainy part of the paddy plant (called spike) and leave about 30 cm of stubble in the field. The farmer using a Combine Harvester either has to manually cut the stubble or use some machine or burn it.
Among these, burning is the easiest and most cost-effective option. In the case of manual harvesting, very little stubble is left in the ground and, hence, not burnt. The problem, Bhushan pointed out, lies in the design of these machines.
The current Combine Harvester leaves about 10-15 inches of stubble on the ground. But there are newer versions, called Half-Feeder Combine Harvesters, that cut the stubble from the ground and leave very little stubble, eliminating the need for burning entirely. However, it is important to understand that farmers also burn straw (mostly non-basmati straw) if they don't find a market to sell them.
So, providing a market for straw is equally important. The government has been providing 50-80 per cent capital subsidy to acquire farm machineries like happy seeder and super seeder for in-situ management of stubble.
But these machineries are not being fully utilized due to some practical and economic factors.
"All the money we are spending on additional machinery is not being used sufficiently to combat the issue of stubble burning," Bhushan stated.
It is essential to understand that the use of these subsidized farm machinery is double work for a farmer. He has to first use a Combine Harvester to cut the crop and then use these machinery to manage the stubble. Also, the use of these machines is expensive.
Despite subsidies, farmers incur an extra charge of about Rs 2,500 per acre to use these machines.
So, burning is the cheapest option.
Bhushan stressed the necessity of providing a single, efficient solution within the existing Combine Harvesters to address the root cause of stubble burning. With stubble burning increasing in Punjab and Haryana, Bhushan predicted that it has yet to reach its peak.
As Diwali approaches, there's a risk that these emissions will coincide with the festivities. If the days lack good wind or rainfall, Diwali celebrations could worsen air quality significantly.
To combat this problem effectively, it's imperative to address the design of combined harvesters and streamline the farming process while emphasising the significance of this issue as a major source of pollution.
Finding innovative solutions is paramount to mitigate the impact of stubble burning and ensure cleaner, healthier air for all, Bhushan said.
Bhushan highlighted the inadequacy of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) in addressing the pressing issue of air pollution in Delhi and its surrounding regions.
He said that the GRAP's actions have proven insufficient, and a more comprehensive approach is required to combat the current air quality crisis.
He attributed the rise to the fact that GRAP primarily focuses on tackling relatively insignificant sources of pollution, such as DG sets and the construction sector.
According to Bhushan, these factors are overshadowed by more substantial sources of pollution.
The primary contributors to air pollution are:
- Agricultural Residue and Biomass Burning: The burning of crop residues in fields and biomass for heating and cooking is the single largest source of air pollution. Currently, about 500 million people (40 per cent of the population) use biomass for cooking; about 60 of thper cente population uses biomass for heating, especially in the winter season. This makes a large number of households a source of pollution, akin to vehicles on the road.
- Industrial Pollution: Industrial emissions, especially coal-based power plants, significantly impact air quality. Addressing this issue is crucial in the fight against pollution.
Automobiles: While vehicles contribute to pollution, Bhushan noted that their overall contribution is less than 15 per cent, emphasizing that 80 per cent of pollution arises from other sources.
Dust: Dust from barren land, roadside and construction activities contributes to PM 10. As Delhi is a semi-arid area and also near the Thar Desert, dust is a significant contributor to Delhi's pollution woes.
Bhushan asserted that addressing air pollution requires a multi-pronged approach:
- Clean Cooking and Heating Fuels: Providing clean and sustainable cooking and heating fuels to every household is of paramount importance. Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) is possibly the single most important initiative to combat air pollution.
Reducing Pollution from Coal and Industries: Efforts to mitigate pollution from coal, thermal power plants, and industries must be intensified.
Stubble Burning and Waste Management: Stopping crop residue burning is vital to stop severe pollution episodes. Similarly, eliminating the open burning of garbage by adopting effective waste management practices is essential to reduce pollution levels in cities.
Dust Control: Measures to prevent dust from land and construction activities are essential. Promoting greenery in cities, putting in place dust control measures at construction sites, reducing road excavation etc., during winter months are all important initiatives to control dust.
Bhushan underlined the need to return to basics by addressing fundamental issues that have been overlooked.
While technological advancements and policies have been implemented over the past decade, the persistent air pollution problem necessitates a more holistic and integrated approach.
Bhushan's insights serve as a call to action to address the root causes of air pollution, striving for cleaner air not only in Delhi but across the nation.