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Farm fires growing in Punjab, plumes of smoke seen over Delhi in satellite images

Delhi government data shows that last year stubble burning accounted for 44% of the city’s air pollution. Delhi environment minister Gopal Rai said that Punjab produces 20 million tonnes of crop stubble out of which 9 million tonnes were burnt last year.

Updated: Sep 25, 2020, 07:51 IST

By Soumya Pillai, Hindustan Times New Delhi

Delhi government data shows that last year stubble burning accounted for 44% of the city’s air pollution. (Sameer Sehgal/ HT Photo)

The number of crop stubble burning cases in Punjab has been increasing over the past five days, especially in Amritsar district, satellite images released by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) have shown. Nasa also warned that with plumes of smoke being seen over Delhi, the city’s air quality may also deteriorate in the coming weeks.

Delhi government data shows that last year stubble burning accounted for 44% of the city’s air pollution. Delhi environment minister Gopal Rai said that Punjab produces 20 million tonnes of crop stubble out of which 9 million tonnes were burnt last year. In Haryana, 1.23 million tonnes of the 7 million tonnes stubble were burnt by farmers.

The Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (Epca) had on Tuesday written to the chief secretaries of Punjab and Haryana, asking the states to control cases of stubble burning. In his letter to the two states, Epca chief Bhure Lal said it was imperative that early action be taken to control these fires ahead of the winters to control the annual pollution spike in Delhi.

Data provided by Pawan Gupta, a research scientist at the Goddard Earth Sciences Technology and Research (GESTAR), Universities Space Research Association, shows that early instances of stubble burning started appearing on satellite images from September 12 this year, and the number of incidents is consistently increasing.



The worst affected district was Amritsar in Punjab. Other districts where ‘red dots’, which indicate fires, are being observed are Tarn Taran, Kapurthala, Jalandhar, Gurdaspur, Pathankot and parts of Firozpur.

Also read: No option but to burn stubble, say farmers as doctors worry about Covid

Data shows that between September 20 and September 24, 60-100 farm fires were reported daily from Amritsar. From September 22, the satellite images spotted caught plumes of smoke over the national capital.

“Satellite images show smoke over north India since September 22. This hazy cover over northern India is most likely because stubble burning activity has started,” said Gupta, who is also leading a community forum of environment experts and government representatives to understand the impact of these fires on the local environment and look for solutions to control crop residue burning.

Scientists at the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said that currently north-westerly winds are blowing across Delhi, which means that the smoke from Punjab and Haryana will directly be carried to the city, deteriorating the air quality here.

“The only respite is that for the next two days the wind speeds will improve to 20-25kmph. But after that, the wind speed will reduce again and if the stubble burning activity continues to grow, the pollution levels will also see a spike in the coming weeks,” said Kuldeep Srivastava, head of IMD’s regional weather forecasting centre.

A senior official of the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) said stubble burning cases are “under control” and the monitoring teams are keeping a close watch on violators.

Also read: First stubble fires start to show up on Nasa map

“We are monitoring the stubble burning activity through our remote sensing system. There is awareness among farmers but our teams have started visiting villages to stop stubble burning,” said the PPCB official, on the condition of anonymity.

On Thursday, Delhi’s average air quality index (AQI), according to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), was 104, in the ‘moderate’ zone. On Wednesday, the city’s air was ‘satisfactory’ with an AQI value of 76.

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