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Towards a Greener, Cleaner and Safer India

November 27, 2021 / 11:01 AM IST

Large swathes of North India are gasping for breaths. The onset of winter is only getting worse every passing year, thanks to uncontrolled burning of crop residue, commonly referred to as stubble burning. It has poisoned the already toxic air quality of the region to a magnitude of national crisis this time.

The forced re-imposition of work-from-home order and closure of schools in Delhi tell the gravity of the situation that has put countless people in the risk of severe respiratory illnesses.

The ritual of stubble burning is a consequence of the two-crop rotation system that predominates in large parts of India. Farmers plant rice in summer and wheat in winter. This contributes 41 percent of the country’s food production. But the practice, which has brought food security to millions, also means less time for farmers to prepare their land for the winter sowing season.

Typically, an Indian farmer has only 15 days between harvest of the summer crop and sowing of the winter crop. Burning the stubble left behind becomes the quickest and the cheapest way for farmers to prepare their land for sowing.

The noxious mix of gases rising from this inferno – comprising carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, various oxides of nitrogen and sulphur, methane and a heavy emission of particulate matter – hangs longer in the atmosphere because of the calm winds after the monsoon.

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The intensifying air pollution leads to a steep rise in the incidences of severe neurological, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis, lung capacity loss, emphysema and, sometimes cancer, have been observed as a result of this poor air quality.

Such grim health prospects not only raise the healthcare costs for a community at large, but also damage the economic prospects of the entire nation. By keeping children away from school, and workers away from offices, air pollution is now tearing at the very fabric of our social and economic lives.

The problem is not new. Delhi has consistently ranked among the most polluted cities in the world since 1990. Therefore, solutions are overdue. Delhi’s city administration took some additional steps to mitigate air pollution by banning the entry of smoke-billowing heavy vehicles. Certain states have also curtailed Diwali celebrations to control the seasonal rise in air pollution.

But for a lasting solution, the farmers must be trained and assisted in removing their crop stubble in a sustainable manner. Whether it’s incorporating it into the soil, selling the stubble as biofuel, or as raw material for the paper and pulp industry, there are many other profitable ways of dispensing with farm residue. All it needs is a little effort and it’s critical for the well-being of millions of Indians.

As we emerge from the ravages of COVID-19 on the back of a hugely successful vaccination campaign, Indians at every level must brace to combat the threat air pollution poses to our collective health. It’s a question of our lives and our future.

Join India’s largest COVID-19 vaccine awareness campaign, Network18 Sanjeevani – A Shot Of Life, a Federal Bank CSR initiative, to spread a message of health and immunity to all Indians everywhere.

 
first published: Nov 27, 2021 11:01 am
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