50 teams to check pollution in Delhi-NCR

Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar said on Thursday that 50 Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) teams will be deployed starting on October 15 in the National Capital Region (NCR) to curb air pollution this winter.

CPCB will also coordinate with north-western states daily to monitor emissions, Javadekar said following a review meeting with the environment ministers of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.

“The 50 teams will be on the ground monitoring polluting activities in Delhi-NCR. They will inform relevant government agencies immediately so that quick action can be taken {when air quality dips. In fact, we deployed the teams in a dry run between September 15 and 20, and did find several pollution sources such as dumping of waste, construction rubble and dust, unpaved roads,” said Prashant Gargava, member-secretary of CPCB.

The review took place as the capital and neighbouring towns in the NCR brace for the winter, when a thick smoky haze envelops the region mainly as a result of post-harvest stubble burning in northern Indian states such as Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, disrupting air and train traffic. Ensuring farmers don’t set crop stubble on fire may be more difficult this year because small farmers hurt by the Covid-19-led economic slowdown may not have the means to hire machines and tractors to clear their farmlands of stubble, experts have said.

Till September 29, 520 crop fires have been reported in Punjab and 175 in Haryana till Thursday, according to CPCB.

Rice and wheat that are the staples grown in the region are dependent on nitrogenous fertiliser that leads to soil degradation, an expert said. “The key issue is linked to the cropping patterns. Unless the rice-wheat cropping system is broken, the ecological crisis of high groundwater use, high fertilizer use or stubble burning will not stop,” said G V Ramanjaneyulu, executive director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad. “The gap between rice and wheat seasons is short, labour wages are high, which leads to stubble burning.” Given the short gap, burning is usually the quickest and cheapest way of ridding the fields of stubble.

According to the index maintained by CPCB, air quality in NCR was “satisfactory” for just eight days, a level at which atmospheric pollution poses little or no risk, in September. On the remaining 22 days of the month, it was moderate. Comparatively, August saw four good air days; air quality was satisfactory over the rest of the month.

At Thursday’s meeting, the environment ministers decided to focus on so-called hot spots of air pollution. For example, Delhi will focus on controlling pollution sources in 13 hot spots, including Mayapuri, Bawana, Narela, Dwarka, Rohini, RK Puram and Jahangirpuri. Similarly, Haryana will focus on Panipat, Sonepat, Jhajjar and other areas; Uttar Pradesh will concentrate its anti-pollution effort on Bulandshahr, Meerut, Noida and Greater Noida; and Rajasthan will focus on Bhiwadi.

Trials have begun on a stubble decomposer developed by the Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI) in all stubble-burning states, Javadekar said. “We may see results of the trials in a year or so. The Centre has already disbursed ₹1,700 crore in the past three years for subsidising straw management machinery to Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. That has also resulted in reduction of area under stubble burning,” he claimed.

Punjab officials informed the Centre that the state was trying to raise awareness in the districts where stubble-burning is common on the link between Covid-19 and air pollution.

“The Punjab government is communicating the link to farmers and locals,” Javadekar said.

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