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The Fruits of Dirty Air


The haze and smoke over Delhi has become an annual occurrence during the months of October and November. The current situation has resulted in a temporary halt to construction activities as well as the movement of trucks and diesel four-wheelers that do not meet BS-VI standards.


GS Paper 3: Environment protection

Mains Question

What exactly is smog? Analyze the causes of Delhi’s poor Air Quality Index levels and propose solutions to improve them. (250 words)

Why do farmers choose Stubble Burning?

  • Farmers generally burn rice and wheat straws left in the field after combine harvesting to facilitate seed bed preparation and seeding.
  • Farmers prefer this method for crop residue management because it is quick and inexpensive compared to other methods.
  • Because farming input costs are increasing on a daily basis, farmers are hesitant to invest in crop residue management equipment.
  • Happy Seeder (a tractor-powered machine for in-field management of paddy stubble) remains an expensive option for the majority of farmers.

Areas where this practise is widespread

  • Agricultural residue is burned on a large scale in states like Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and the National Capital Region of Delhi.
  • This is also prevalent in other states. This includes states such as Bihar, Odisha, and West Bengal.

The government’s efforts to address this issue

  • Photographed by Centre
    • A Central Sector Scheme on ‘Promotion of Agricultural Mechanisation for In-Situ Crop Residue Management in the States of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and the National Capital Territory of Delhi’ was approved.
    • Farmers receive financial assistance of 50% of the cost of machinery/equipment for the purchase of such machinery.
    • The Centre has heavily subsidised various agricultural machines over the last three years.
  • Farmers share the profits from the leftover biomass.
  • Adopted by state governments and other organisations
    • State governments and other organisations are educating farmers on healthier farming practises.
    • The Punjab government recently decided to provide incentives to industries that install paddy-straw-fired boilers.
    • It also decided to provide non-financial incentives to these industries in the form of Panchayat land available for storage of paddy straw with a lease agreement of up to 33 years.
  • Pusa Decomposer
    • A bio-enzyme created by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) to decompose crop residue.
    • It decomposes stubble in 20-25 days and converts it to manure, improving soil quality.
    • It is also cost effective. One packet of four capsules costs Rs 20 and yields 25 litres of solution suitable for one hectare.

The Way Forward

  • Development of markets for crop residue-based briquettes (a compressed block of combustible biomass material)
  • Mandatory co-firing of crop residues with coal at nearby thermal power plants
  • A special credit line for financing farm equipment and working capital for private sector participation should be established.
  • Alternative beneficial uses for crop residues should be encouraged.
    • Examples include composting, bioenergy production, biochar production, and use in the pulp and paper industry.
  • Converting crop residues and food/plant wastes into biofuel has enormous potential. The government should begin incentivizing industries that produce biofuels.
  • The haze and smoke over Delhi have prompted a temporary halt to construction activities as well as the movement of trucks and diesel four-wheelers that do not meet BS-VI standards.
  • A petition concerning agricultural stubble burning in the northern states will be heard by the Supreme Court.
  • The primary cause of Delhi-extremely NCR’s poor air quality is attributed to stubble burning.

Pollutants that cause pollution

  • Agricultural waste burning
    • At this time of year, the burning of agricultural waste in Punjab and Haryana is the primary cause of smoke and haze over Delhi.
    • During this time, particulate matter from burning contributes 30-40% of the PM2.5 concentrations in Delhi’s air.
  • Weather
    • The weather also plays an important role; a 30-40% increase in pollutants at any other time of year would not have the same impact.
    • Pollutants are trapped and tend to concentrate at lower levels of the atmosphere during October and November, resulting in the current smoke and haze situation.
  • During the summer, hotter air rises higher above the surface, carrying pollutants with it.
  • As a result, polluting particles are lifted 2-3 km above the surface or even higher before dispersing.
  • Other considerations
  • Construction activities; transportation of diesel vehicles, particularly older trucks, and so on

December 2023