The number of farm fires spotted in Punjab and Haryana are higher this year for the kharif season till October 15, with 3,517 incidents compared to 1,217 for the same period last year and 773 points in 2018, according to India Meteorological Department (IMD) data. Since harvesting of Kharif crops is still not complete, crop fires are likely to peak next week.
Last year, there were 55,210 fire points in Punjab and in 2018 there were 50,590 fire points in Punjab. There were 616 fire points in Punjab and 87 fire points in Haryana on Wednesday alone, the IMD data shows.
“Only 50% of harvesting is complete till now. Harvesting and clearing the fields will take another 10 to 15 days. The use of straw management machinery is not very successful because all farmers cannot afford it and some stubble still remains which has to be cleared manually. The government should accept the Supreme Court’s suggestion and pay Rs 100 per quintal to all farmers and then act on farmers who still burn stubble,” said Dharmendra Kumar, spokesperson, Bharatiya Kisan Union.
While the air quality early warning system of ministry of earth sciences said that stubble fires led to 6% of the total PM2.5 pollution in Delhi, scientists said it could change very rapidly, depending on meteorological factors and the number of farm fires in Punjab and Haryana.
On Thursday, till 9 am winds were calm which meant dispersion of pollutants was not possible. After 9 am winds were northwesterly but contribution from stubble burning was around 6%.
Scientists said the impact of stubble fires on Delhi’s pollution levels is dynamic and hence it is impossible to zero in on their total contribution. The combination of adverse meteorology, stubble fires and high local emissions create the conditions for a severe spike in air pollution every October.
“We apportion the contribution from stubble burning every day. Now it’s 6%, but it will peak when the fire points also increase in the coming days. The rest of the 94% contribution is from various local factors,” said a senior scientist from IMD’s air quality management division.
Sagnik Dey, associate professor, IIT Delhi, explained that the impact of stubble burning on air pollution depends a lot depend on the meteorological factors.
“Meteorology is the main factor—wind direction is north westerly, the boundary layer is stable or winds are calm, temperature also drops. These factors increase the pollution load significantly, nearly doubling it. There is not much change in the share of emissions in September and October. In addition, if there is another source like stubble burning obviously pollution levels can spike but the impact is not linear,” Dey said.
“Though no studies have been conducted on how much emissions need to reduce during adverse meteorological conditions to bring air quality to acceptable levels, my estimate is that emissions need to halve not just in Delhi but in the Delhi airshed which includes 13 to 14 districts in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh,” he added.
A war of words began between the Centre and the Delhi government on Thursday after Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar said stubble burning is contributing to only 4% of the total pollution load in Delhi. Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal countered that staying in denial will not help. “If stubble burning causes only 4% pollution then why has pollution suddenly increased last fortnight?,” he said.
The environment ministry soon after clarified that the contribution from stubble burning is 4% only now and that it can change depending on various factors.