Understanding Delhi’s SMOKE Season

The above pictures were sent by a school friend who is refusing to come to Delhi till these numbers come down and the following blog is written by another school friend of mine who doesn’t want to be named … I have good friends πŸ™‚

1. Every year from end Oct to Nov, large plains of areas in Western UP, Haryana, Punjab and Pakistan Punjab face huge pollution.
*Conventional Explanation*
2. The conventional explanation is manmade farm fires in rice fields, vehicles and industry (mainly construction and thermal power plants), which gets aggravated by Diwali celebrations.
3. For Meteorological and geographical reasons (area enclosed by Himalayas, Hindukush and plateau to South) this period coincides with almost nil wind flow over this region, so what gets generated stays. Finally when wind conditions improves it gets dispersed along East coast of India.
*Kharif Crop (rice) cultivation*
4. As a part of green revolution farmers were encouraged to grow as much as possible to become self sufficient in food in mid-sixties onwards.
5. This region became the food bowl of India, especially for wheat and rice.
6. Rice (Kharif) was sown in Apr-May period and harvested in Sept followed by wheat sown in 2nd half of Nov and harvested in Mar-Apr period.
7. After harvesting rice in Sept, the left over straws were burnt in the field as per SOP, and smoke will disperse quickly because of favourable wind conditions and not coinciding with Diwali.
8. Rice grown in this region is high quality Basmati rice, expensive and large quantities are exported to middle East. An entire industry exists to process this and key to farmers well being.
*Problem Area*
9. Rice demands huge quantity of water, per hectare consumption of water for rice is highest in this region, thereby, because of free electricity, farmers draw huge amount of ground water, depleting scarce resource.
10. Govt responded by making a law, shifting sowing season for rice to Jun, coinciding with monsoon to save groundwater.
11. This resulted in shifting harvesting season to End Oct or early Nov.
12. As per SOP, now when they burn left over straw, changed wind conditions and Diwali celebrations (in Punjab, Gurpurabh in Nov is also celebrated same as Diwali), smoke stays, hence the smog.
13. Any number of mechanical equipment for harvesting in short period of 15 days post rice harvesting (wheat has to be sown in Nov, before onset of winter, otherwise seed doesn’t germinate) is insufficient to clear the fields of leftover rice straw.
14. Farmers don’t have time, money and will to use any other means. Paying fine, if caught, is a cheaper option.
15. Only short term solution is to ban crackers in any celebrations (There are days when 30000 to 50000 marriages take place in a single day, bursting of crackers is part of that too) during this period as a first step, since we can’t shut down thermal plants, taking vehicles off the road only in Delhi is only optics, stoppage of construction makes large labour unemployed etc.
16. Shift from rice crop to other less water dependent crops like millet etc.
17. With other states in India now producing enough quantities of food grains, shift at least Haryana and Punjab from agriculture to industrial based economy.
18. Will it happen? – I doubt. It needs huge political wisdom, bipartisanship, booming economy and employment.
19. So overall scenario grim, may be human body will undergo evolution and adjust.

It’s a complex man made problem. Solutions are there, but would need sacrifice from some quarters. Who wants to lose out?


Please sign this change.org petition and lets see if some of the suggestions given above can be implemented !!

Make a 5-state policy to tackle air pollution in NCR

Additional reading –

USAID, Monsanto and the real reason behind Delhi’s horrific smoke season


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