Delhi became the most polluted city in the world as air quality index reached dangerous levels a day after the festival of Diwali. What is contributing significantly to the air pollution in the national capital region is illegal stubble burning in neighbouring states. Add to that vehicular pollution, fireworks during Diwali and construction dust and you have an annual crisis that is only getting from bad to worse
Stubble burning and its effects on air pollution
Burning the fields right after harvest from late September and all through October has been a regular practice by farmers in Punjab and Haryana who consider it cost effective. There are some advantages that farmers cite like the killing of weeds, slugs and other pests when burning crop residue. But it's the low cost of disposal that makes it an attractive option for farmers. Of late, the disadvantages have outweighed them. There is a risk of fires that can spread out of control. In recent years, it has led to toxic clouds forming over Delhi and the National Capital Region which are beginning to threaten life. Satellite images released by NASA have shown stubble burning and formation of smog over northern India. Despite India's aim to reduce stubble burning by 70 per cent this year, the fires have only got bigger as farmers get ready for the winter planting.
What's the problem?
Farmers are demanding Rs 200 per quintal as bonus from the government for the management of crop residue if it fails to propose a viable solution for stubble burning problem. Farmers have also blamed private farm equipment companies of making a profit by hiking the cost of machinery. Lower costs and easy availability of the machine is the need of the hour. To this end, some organisations like Haryana-based Grameen Yuvti Vikash Mandal are working towards raising awareness, crowdfunding of Happy Seeders and even working on a renting model for them.
What are happy seeder machines?
Enter the Happy Seeder. It was conceived by the Punjab Agricultural University and allows farmers to sow without removing stubble. It completely eliminates the need for stubble burning and therefore is being considered as the perfect alternative to the polluting method. The new technology was tested last year. It is mounted on a tractor and can cut and lift the previous crop. It then sows the new wheat crop.
Can stubble burning be resolved by using Happy seeder machines?
The question then is if these machines can resolve the crisis northern India is reeling under. Centre has announced special schemes to incentivise farmers to shift to mechanisation of various forms. According to the Agriculture department of Punjab over 25,000 machines that included 8000 Happy Seeders were purchased in the state this year. But most farmers can't afford these machines and can't find access to rent them either. Happy Seeders cost Rs 1.70 lakh and are used for just two months in a year which is why farmers find them an unviable option.
Delhi's current crisis
Post Diwali the Air Quality Index rose sharply putting Delhi in the severe plus emergency category at 642. It nearly doubled in comparison to last year. Firecrackers have added to the PM2.5 and PM 10 pollution. Although some efforts are on at the ground level, they are currently inadequate in curbing the spike in air pollution.