I have been living in Delhi, my entire life, and have been celebrating each and every festival with the utmost joy and elation that this city possesses. However, one such festival, Diwali, came with a rather unforeseen outcome. We all know, firecrackers have been cancer to our environment and are doing no help in regressing the climate change problem that we as an entire world are suffering from. But the number of people this year, out on roads burning crackers, have drastically decreased in comparison to earlier times, and many of you would definitely agree with me on that. However, the result is not at all what we expected, Delhi is under the dangerous blanket of smog with even zero visibility in certain areas.

So, I started reaching the dark corners (and smooth too) for the reason behind the dangerous smog in Delhi which has now reached my home, office and even the metro that we commute in. This quest of mine took me to The New York Times article behind the real culprit. The article has very elaborately discussed the problem.

In a gist, all this smog in Delhi (and North India) has been a byproduct of fires set to rice field by hundreds of thousands of farmers in Punjab and Haryana, who are the major producer of wheat and rice in the country. Every year, after the usual cropping of rice, the leftover straws are put on fire, in order to start the plantation of winter wheat crop. Although, the government is trying their best to stop the farmers from doing so. Last year the National Green Tribunal (India’s environment court) was very stringent on the governments of the said states, to stop the practice and even induced a certain amount of fine on those, who would still do it. Yet, an estimated amount of 32 million tonnes of leftover straws is continuing to burn.

These burnings of leftover straws are contributing to almost one-quarter of smog and pollution in the city. The pollution is definitely going to have a dangerous effect on the lives of 20 million, living in the city.

There have been measures that the farmers can opt for which are much more environment-friendly, rather than burning the leftovers. The government is encouraging the use of a seeder which can plant the wheat without disposing of the leftover rice straw. However, this seeder almost costs Rs 1,28,000, which is indeed very costly for farmers. It is important to know, that many of the farmers don’t even earn that much from their entire rice production.

The government is doing as much as they can to deterrent the harmful burning, which is the reason why they are offering to pay half of the money of the seeder so that many farmers would decide to go for this service. Yet, a huge number of farmers are ready to pay a fine, than actually investing money into an environmentally safe programme, which in the end is going to benefit them the most.

Apart from this, another alternative to burning is the sale of leftover rice straws, which means creating a market for these straws. As of now, there are seven plants in Punjab that convert leftover straws into electricity and soon six more would start functioning. But 13 conversion plants are not going to have a huge impact on the overall use of the leftover straws. Only 1.5 million tonnes of straws out of 20 million tonnes, could be used by these plants.

All this made me realise, that all we need is to have a broader perspective on issues and start thinking about each and every aspect which is contributing to this smog and pollution. The government is doing their bit, people are doing their bit and even farmers are trying to do their bit, and in between all of this we need to have thorough informative lessons regarding our environment and how to save it.

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3 November 2016
Jyotsna Amla

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