Millennium Post

Every breath you take...

All headlines in the past week have been hogged by Delhi's horrid air pollution. It has been compared to an apocalypse, a gas chamber, a living hell—and, rightfully so. Yet, this isn't a recent phenomenon, neither is it an unexpected one. Memories of this past week are cloaked in a cloud of smoke and haze, as was our vision sitting in the national capital. Last year, at this time, the exact same series of events had unfurled—a settled fog's density was ridiculously amplified by micro pollutants floating in the air that caused a thick consistency of smog to settle over the entire northern region of India, particularly the areas surrounding the national capital. The Supreme Court, anticipating this exigency, had called in for early measures by banning the use of firecrackers in Delhi during Diwali. Though there wasn't an absolute end to the practice, a sharp dip was duly observed. Nevertheless, the intensity of air pollution troubles did not escape Delhi's luck, as November brought in with it the same cloud of smog that again drastically reduced visibility across NCR, carried the potential for asphyxiation and led to the declaration of an emergency air situation. Prevention here did not negate the need for a cure. Policymakers have been missing out on the crucial prefix that convolutes this problem, each year, threatening the lives of the several million residing in northern India. Realising the gravity of the problem, chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, called out yesterday, asking the governments of the different states and the Centre, to set aside differences and come forth to find a holistic solution to this very imminent problem. The root cause lays in the rampant crop burning practiced abundantly by farmers across Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, as they prepare their fields for the next sowing season. The stubble, remnants of paddy, left behind as a result of combine harvesting, demands removal before the field can be prepared for the next season of wheat plantation. Manual removal is cumbersome and time-consuming whereas technology is expensive—this leaves farmers with the only option to set ablaze their fields as a quick fix. The paddy matures by mid-October and wheat must be sown in by mid-November, latest. This leaves little time to the farmers to reap off the previous harvest, clear the fields and prepare for the next season. Methods are being adopted to reduce the duration of paddy plantation to offer farmers with more time, yet, such initiatives are limited, as farmers' access to such development is numbered. Even if the duration of paddy is reduced, it still leaves a wide window ajar for interpretations on how to eliminate the stubble of paddy, which unlike the leftover of wheat, fetches no value to the farmer. Residue incorporation is a commonly spoken about method. It has been incorporated in Bathinda too, yet, the costs involved for a holistic access to this method is high as it requires at least two to three tillage operations and use of chopper-shredder machines that would eliminate the stubble. For the uneducated farmer, who anyway is functioning with little time and gains limited revenue from his produce, burning his farmland is the most effective method. The National Green Tribunal had banned the practice of crop burning in 2015. Yet, the state governments have not been successful in implementing this; neither in the way of fines nor in the way of providing compensation to abiders. The NGT, this time, has advised the Delhi government to reimplement the odd-even scheme of driving vehicles in the capital, while it has also banned all kinds of construction work until November 14. A visibly perturbed green panel also imposed a ban on the entry of diesel trucks, more than ten years old while issuing objection against the entry of vehicles from outside Delhi carrying construction material. These slew of measures put into place in Delhi are at best efficient measures to reduce the intensity of a disaster that has already made heavy inroads into the capital. Clearly, this doesn't address the cause, which is hiding in the rural farmlands of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, where abundant crop burning has been paralysing Delhi, year after year. As Kejriwal called out, policymakers must urgently address the problem of crop burning, by equipping farmers with better methods to eliminate their crop residue, which is virtually useless to them. The most viable technology, right now, would be introducing the Turbo Happy Seeder (THS) tractor, which lifts and cuts the standing stubble, sows in the wheat seeds into the bare soil, and then sediments the straw over the sown spot as a cover. This technology addresses the entire process of preparing the field for harvest and sowing in the seeds for the new season. There are certain shortcomings of this technology, with loose straw and the costs. But, the method could be developed with more care to cater to the farmer's needs while also addressing the prevalent problem of lethal air pollution. The blame game must stop and brainstorming must quickly begin.
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