When the sun penetrates the October sky, sneezing and allergies return, but I am not alone. Thousands of Delhi residents share my suffering and the most vulnerable groups – the elderly, children, pregnant women, people suffering from respiratory diseases, and panic as winter approaches.
News reports confirm that Delhi is relatively less polluted on Diwali (325 vs. 462 AQI), but the worst is yet to come. After all, this was early in Diwali and winter temperatures were a few weeks away.
Air pollution and rubble burning have strong links
The major sources of pollution in Delhi are vehicle emissions, industrial effluents, construction dust, and finally straw burning which occurs occasionally but increases smog every winter.
Low temperatures ensure that particles remain suspended in our breathing ranges. But don’t feel fresh air and sunshine, soot is coming.
India needs better straw management strategies
Heavy rains wet the crops, and many farmers wait for the crops to dry before the burning begins. Ground reports confirm that winter sowing has been delayed and, therefore, most farmers especially in the Punjab region will have a very short window to harvest rice and sow wheat.
So how does that relate to Delhi’s air pollution problems? Time-pressed farmers would not wait for happy sowing or consider mulching, and would have no choice but to clean the fields and burn the residue, thus sending soot into our airways.
So what happened to the thousands of crores spent on cleaning up Delhi’s air and stopping straw burning? The government subsidized the purchase of mulching machines and hay harvesters such as the Happy and Super Seeder and wanted to register farmers and Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) to spread awareness about hay burning, but this scheme failed miserably.
More coverage mechanism is needed
Lucky villages got at best, one for two machines sawdust hundreds and thousands of acres.
Keep in mind that the Happy Seeder can only mulch and seed between 10-15 acres per day and that the transition period between sowing rice to wheat is from a week to ten days.
It would take weeks if not months to sow seeds in an average Punjabi village with just one machine. With little time for harvesting and sowing, Happy Sowing becomes an impractical option for farmers.
Accessible economic technology will help farmers
The other issue is technological redundancy. Primarily government hay management solutions and equipment are expensive and for all of the above reasons, they are also redundant.
Farmers want a cheaper, more accessible, farmer-friendly, low-cost technology to help remove residue rather than expensive industrial solutions. But there is no financial support for creating or using alternative machines.
Finally, the government strongly encouraged the molding or creation of straw bricks or pellets, but at ground level much more was required. Even if farmers somehow create hay bales, where are they going to sell them?
There is not enough industry or supporting infrastructure to handle the billions of bales leaving Punjab in the fall. Without any support or option, farmers burn leftover hay and we cough every year!