As crop fires begin on small scale, city gets a sign of things to come

By Times Of India on 24 Apr 2018 | read
NEW DELHI: Farmers have started harvesting the wheat crop in Punjab, Haryana and many other parts of the National Capital Region. According to farmer groups in these states, small-scale crop fires have already begun. If not controlled immediately, there may be a peak in air pollution levels in NCR in the coming weeks. Already, Gurgaon has reported “very poor” air quality in the last week (April 18 onwards) compared to “poor” prior to that.
Delhi’s air quality is oscillating between “poor” and “very poor”, but improved to “moderate” on Monday, owing to favourable wind speed. This, however, is likely to change this week.

“We can see very small fires in Nasa images. But it’s early to say as the full scale of fires will be reported in early May. We will coordinate with neighbouring states if needed,” a senior scientist at Delhi Pollution Control Committee said.

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Bharat Kisan Union Haryana president Rattan Mann said they had received reports of farm fires from Kaithal, Karnal, Panipat and surrounding areas. “But these are accidental fires. Farmers are saying these are because of short-circuit cases or other accidental reasons. But some farmers will also set the crop stubble on fire next week after reaping is over because other alternatives are very expensive. They need to prepare the farm for paddy.”

Harmanpreet Singh, a farmer and environmentalist from Fatehgarh Sahib in Punjab, said several farms around his village had set fire to stubble. “It has reduced compared to last year, but we cannot say there is an improvement until first week of May. Even with the government subsidy to buy happy seeders or other machinery, burning is the most cost-effective method for farmers. We campaigned extensively with farmers to stop them from resorting to burning stubble, but it’s not been very successful. Some FIRs against crop fires have also been lodged.”

Vikrant Tongad, a Noida-based environmentalist, said reports of crop fires had also started coming in from Greater Noida.

According to Kuldeep Shrivastava, director at the Regional Weather Forecasting Centre, the wind direction till April 26 will be northwesterly, blowing from Punjab-Haryana towards the capital. On April 28, a low pressure system may develop with cyclonic circulation affecting Delhi-NCR. “The wind direction may change briefly around April 28, but will go back to northwesterly April 30 onwards,” he added.

DPCC scientists said northwesterly winds, combined with crop fires, might lead to a peak in air pollution levels, particularly PM10 (coarse pollution particles) in the coming days.

This peak, however, will be brief compared to the pollution caused by paddy stubble burning in October. “Compared to the October-November paddy crop fires, the fire counts in May are lower by a factor of 4 to 5,” Hiren Jethva, research scientist at Nasa Goddard Space Flight Center, said.