Centre moves to check Delhi’s killer smog, to allocate Rs 600 crore to states to end crop-burning menace

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New Delhi | Published: August 24, 2018 4:46:24 PM

Moving ahead with its plans to counter the menace of air pollution in and around Delhi during winters this year, the government is learnt to have identified 113 districts in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh to implement a policy

The burning of agriculture biomass residue, locally known as Parali, has been attributed as one of the leading factors for increasing air pollution level in the winter season in and around Delhi. (File photo: Reuters)

Moving ahead with its plans to counter the menace of air pollution in and around Delhi during winters this year, the government is learnt to have identified 113 districts in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh to implement a policy that promises to minimise the practice of crop burning with an aim to end it permanently.

With burning of crop residue identified as one of the primary contributors to the menace of hazardous smog and polluted air that Delhi and its nearby areas have to brave, the Union Agriculture ministry has decided to provide states with funds to purchase machines that will deal with crop burning. The burning of agriculture biomass residue, locally known as Parali, has been attributed as one of the leading factors for increasing air pollution level in the winter season in and around Delhi.

Funds will be provided to these states to purchase crop-cutting machines as well. Besides, a special task force will also be set up to familiarise farmers with the harmful effects of crop burning in these districts. This task force will also check crop burning activities in the area and take action against the offenders. Through awareness programmes, farmers will be made aware of the know-how of the modern machines and their advantages.

The policy aims to end crop burning practice in the next two years. An amount of Rs 1200 crore has been allocated for the scheme, of which Rs 600 crore In 2018-19, around Rs 600 crore will be sanctioned to states and the remaining in 2019-20. Reportedly, the amount for this year has already been sent to the respective states.

Under the scheme, the government will provide a subsidy on the purchase of different types of farming machines. Super straw management system, happy seeder, hydrolic rivsilvil MB plough, rotary mulcher, rotavator, paddy chopper, zero till seed cum fertilizer drill are the machines which will be covered under the scheme.

A subsidy of 50 percent will be provided if a single farmer purchases a machine. However, if five to eight farmers collectively purchase the machine, subsidy amount would go upto 80 percent of the cost of the machine.

To tackle the winter pollution in the capital, several measures have been taken in the past and even the highest court of the land is monitoring the situation. Steps like odd-even by Delhi government, a temporary ban of construction activities in the NCR, water sprinkling etc have been deployed from time to time. However, a significant reduction of pollution levels is not witnessed.

The crop burning problem is prominently visible during September to November period. Removal of paddy stalks from the field is a labour intensive work and most of the farmers being small holders of land unable to hire more people to remove the waste from the field. To prepare the field for next cropping season, the only option they have is to burn the residue on the field itself.

The levels of PM 2.5 and PM 10 rise every year during the winters leading to heavy smog cover over the city. Several health concerns have been raised by doctors due to the pollution. The Supreme Court had even termed the situation as ‘Gas chamber’, in a reference to the worsening condition of capital’s environment.

According to a Harvard University study, most of the air pollution in Delhi during the winter is caused by crop burning in the neighbouring states. The study said the PM 2.5 concentration show spikes in October-November in comparison to the whole year. It further said that during peak fire season, air pollution in Delhi is 20 times higher than the threshold for safe air defined by WHO. Daily mean levels of PM 2.5 exceed the WHO threshold of 25 micrograms per cubic meter as well as the daily mean threshold set by the CPCB of India, which is 60 micrograms per cubic meter.

In February this year, the Modi government moved with this policy to curb crop burning. The Parliament was informed by the government that in November 2017, one quarter of the air pollution in Delhi was due to farmers burning the residue. In November, the city’s pollution climbed to 12 times than the upper limit for healthy years. NITI Aayog estimated that around Rs 4000 crore (USD 600 million) would be needed to prevent farmers from burning the crop waste.

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