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Punjab stubble burning season returns, raises air quality concerns ahead of winter

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As the harvesting season begins, the fields of Punjab have once again turned black due to the burning of crop residue, raising concerns about air quality ahead of winter.

This practice has been associated with smoky and potentially toxic air, impacting the region's environment and public health. In 2021, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi had blamed stubble burning in Punjab for contributing to air pollution in the National Capital Region (NCR).

Despite promises made by the AAP government in Punjab to address the issue of stubble burning after coming to power, the practice has resurfaced in the state two years later. Many farmers have voiced their dissatisfaction, citing unfulfilled goals such as improved access to crop residue crushing machines like balers and seeders.

Punjab's Chief Minister, Bhagwant Mann, who hails from a farming background, had engaged with farmer leaders to discourage them from burning crop stubble. He had highlighted that several panchayats in Punjab had passed resolutions against this practice. Likewise, Delhi's Chief Minister and AAP chief, Arvind Kejriwal, had expressed optimism that stubble burning incidents would decrease, stating that both the Delhi and Punjab governments shared responsibility for addressing the issue.

However, despite these efforts, Punjab farmers have resumed burning crop residue at the start of the harvesting season. Many farmers find alternative crops suggested for diversification to be financially burdensome. Farmers argue that while they are often blamed for air pollution, they are also victims of the problem.

Although there has been a reduction in the number of farm fire cases in the past two years, over 30,000 acres were still set on fire last year. The reported farm fire cases in recent years are as follows: 2021 (320), 2022 (630), and 2023 (845). The number of stubble-burning cases reported between September and October this year has increased to 845, up from less than 600 in the previous year.

The deteriorating air quality in Delhi has prompted the graded action response plan (GARP) level 1 to be implemented. This has led to a ban on the use of coal and firewood and restrictions on truck traffic in the city. The Air Quality Index (AQI) in Delhi has fallen into the "very poor" category, with PM2.5 levels exceeding the World Health Organization's safe limits by 60 times.

As winter approaches, concerns about air quality and stubble burning persist in Punjab and neighboring regions, necessitating urgent measures to address this recurring environmental and health issue.

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