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Pollution x Delhi-NCR (feat. Stubble Burning)

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

If you live in the National Capital Region, congratulations! You can enjoy 15 to 20 cigarettes free every day, for a whole month! And if you're (un)lucky, this limited period deal might even extend over two months!

People think I exaggerate the situation. Honestly, I don't. The thick blanket of smog is all around you. It's visible. You know you can't breathe well. The fumes are indeed toxic. But, if you still exist in the category of people who think that pollution does not exist and is just something made over-hyped by Air-Purifier companies, I might as well be able to convince you that the Earth is flat.

And even after pollution being such a serious issue, our government decides to play politics along the lines of it! There is a blame game going on between the parties. And when we ask them what they will do to save our lungs, they are clueless! They, in an effort to say something, then say they'll do "yajnas" please Lord Indra!! What an idea! And after all this drama, when they are criticised for their tomfoolery, they bring it to one thing:

Stubble Burning.

Indeed, stubble burning IS the major source of pollution in Delhi-NCR. Yet, the thing is, this two-word-excuse has a deeper history of mistakes and unwise planning behind it.

Haryana and Punjab, two agriculturally rich states, have been traditionally cultivating wheat. Stubble Burning, however, came much later, when a new crop was introduced here: Paddy.

Paddy production kicked up in the 1960s. It was a time of the Green Revolution: prophesized large yields, new technology, and a dream of big money for the farmers. The ordinary farmer now got tractors, fertilisers, and tubewells. During this "golden" time, the government started encouraging farmers to produce paddy, to increase India's status in agro-production.

This was done through a package of incentives, like free power and tubewell water supply for farmers. In return, the government purchased paddy from these farmers at lower rates. Paddy production requires loads and loads of water. Farmers, who used to produce wheat would continue to do so in winters and grew paddy in the spring-summer season. But, this means that they would use even more water as it dried up during the summer months.

Stupid? I know. I wish the government knew too.

During the 1980s, when there was a public outcry on the deteriorating conditions of the environment and falling levels of groundwater in the states, the government had to step in and decide what was to be done.

So the parliamentarians did what they are best at: They kept their brains on the table, and shifted paddy cultivation to monsoon.

Right now, you get the vibe that you are effed up.

Late production meant the harvest of paddy coincided with the sowing of wheat. The farmers, in a hurry to harvest paddy, started burning the leftover stubble from the farm instead of clearing it. Thus started the culture of stubble burning. Coupled with the wind patterns, we reached our present-day situation.

So, indeed, stubble burning was a result of much stupidity by the government. But if we can realize that, how come we've not been able to fix that? The answer is: Politics. With the farmers being the majority of votes in Haryana and Punjab, they surely can't be messed up with.

Last year, the state government was still somewhat effective in controlling stubble burning by trying to switch farmers to other crops and through strict policing. However, this year, with BJP being too busy in the state elections, the government could not renew its efforts at stopping pollution. The supreme court aptly worded it:

The solution?

The final solution comes to this: We have to firstly stop free water and power supply for farmers.

I know. The farmers won't like it. But, being optimistic, as I am supposed to be, I think once it happens, they'll switch to crops requiring less water, such as maize and millets.

The production of maize, if fuelled up, would reduce water dependency, stop stubble burning and the state government might even start purchasing ethanol, which can be produced from maize, and export it. This can only happen if the government looks at it from a non-political perspective.

In this sense, I would also like to quote Bharati Chaturvedi, founder of Chintan Environmental Research:

The crisis requires new kinds of cooperation. Delhi can prevent its annual health catastrophe by creating markets for these nutritious millets... Delhi could offer to work with Punjab to identify how much millet supply it can procure and consume next year, and pilot a downstream project in select schools.

What can we do?

We, at this time, can only try to control pollution from our side. I believe that renewed efforts to switch to public transport and the odd-even rule may somehow help in at least stabilizing the pollution levels. Use face masks and air purifiers to keep yourself protected. Try using public transport. Don't burn waste. Don't throw it in the open either. Apart from this, all I can do is hope and pray for the best for Delhi-NCR.

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