Delhi air crisis worsens as Indian farmers step up stubble fires

Published October 25, 2020
Traffic moves on a smoggy morning in New Delhi, India on October 23. — Reuters
Traffic moves on a smoggy morning in New Delhi, India on October 23. — Reuters

SANETA: Delhi’s smog crisis headed for a new toxic peak on Saturday but farmers are refusing to stop the stubble burning that is widely blamed for the poisonous clouds engulfing the Indian capital.

Air pollution in parts of the city reached “severe” levels on Saturday — a day after US President Donald Trump described Indian air as “filthy” — with monitoring agencies warning it would worsen in the next two days because of the lack of wind.

Teams in states around Delhi, home to some 20 million people, are hunting the illegal stubble burners, even driving around country roads at night when most fires are started.

In the past month some 1,265 farmers have been fined in Punjab alone, according to senior pollution officer Krunesh Garg, but satellite detectors have recorded more than 12,000 fires in the state.

In a bid to step up the campaign, the government is offering subsidised machines to clear rice paddies and farmers who are caught starting fires are blocked for bank loans.

But thick grey clouds of smoke that carry deadly particles to the world’s most polluted capital can still be seen everywhere.

Because of Delhi’s position and weather pattern, every winter the city is choked by deadly smog.

Farmers like Paramjeet Singh say they understand inhabitants’ health concerns but consider stubble burning a “necessary evil” in the race to clear fields for fresh crops. “The smoke is also bad for our eyes and lungs but we don’t have the money to buy machines that can clear the crop residue,” Singh said in Saneta village, about 230 kilometres northwest of Delhi, in Punjab state.

“And why go after only farmers? There are so many polluting industries in Delhi and Punjab but only we get blamed,” said the 42-year-old.

Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2020

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