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Using band-aid to treat brain tumour
Banning Diwali fireworks as a part-palliative to air pollution in the Capital seems counter-intuitive, akin to — in the words of an environmentalist who does not want to be named in the fear of being ostracised within the Green/NGO community —”putting a band-aid on the knee to cure a brain tumour”. Given the data generated by IIT Kanpur in a report commissioned by the Delhi Government, this is no hyperbole: close to 50 per cent of air pollution in Delhi/NCR is caused by particulate matter in roadside loose dust and those generated by construction works put together, 25 per cent is due to burning of agricultural waste and crop stubble in the adjoining hinterland of Haryana and Punjab, and another 24 per cent by vehicular emissions. Grand total: 99%.
The Pioneer team focuses today on arguably the single largest cause for the noxious air quality in Delhi, which is the burning of crop stubble around the Capital. Though Diwali is still a week away, the real time ambient air quality data on the National Air Quality Index (NAQI) has flagged Delhi’s air quality as “Orange”, which means the quality of air is “Unhealthy”. The more NAQI pollutant values rise, the more people are likely to suffer from respiratory and other health issues due to inhaling the toxicity in the air. In fact, Gover-nment environmental agencies have reported that during a six-week period in November-December, crop stubble burning causes up to 35 per cent of the pollution in Delhi depending on wind direction.
According to the US space agency NASA, Punjab rice farms burn about 7 to 8 million metric tons of agriculture waste and husk in October and November each year in a bid to hurriedly prepare their fields for the next crop (wheat). The toxic smoke generated by this annual practice plays havoc with the air, especially over Delhi. Owing to mist in the cooler months, smoke billowing from Punjab and Haryana fields hangs in the air and Delhi being a (shallow) valley suffers the most. Dr Sachidanand Singh, Principal Scientist, Radio and Atmospheric Sciences, National Physics Lab, said that wind direction and wind speed play a pivotal role in carrying stubble to Delhi. “The wind pattern remains the same in winters. Winds come from western region and if the velocity of the wind is high, then half or more of the burnt pollutants come to Delhi,” added Singh.
The proof is in every breath Delhi takes: on Wednesday, values of both Particulate Matters (PM 10 and PM 2.5) were recorded at 182 and 105 Micro Cubic Per Gram. State-owned air quality meters of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) noted PM 10 and PM 2.5 values were 201 µg/m3 and 73 µg/m3 in Anand Vihar, 130 and 67 in Mandir Marg, 138 and 71 in Punjabi Bagh, and 143 and 39µg/m3 in RK Puram. The prescribed standards for both pollutants are 60 and 120 (µg/m3).
On ground zero in Punjab and Haryana, however, the Government and the farmers are indulging in a blame-game over the smouldering issue of stubble burning. While both State Governments are patting their own back for purportedly putting a lid on the menace of stubble burning “to a great extent”, the farmers are having none of it and blame the powers-that-be for not providing them compensation to manage paddy straw.
Undeterred by the Government’s threat of punitive measures and a two-year-old ban by the National Green Tribunal, farmers continue burning the paddy straw in their fields while challenging Government claims that there is enough agricultural machinery to lift crop residue from the fields.
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