7 PM | Let’s pay the price of clean air | 5th November, 2019

Context: Pollution in Delhi and stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana.

More in news:

  • Pollution levels in Delhi peaked to a three-year high on Sunday.
  • According to the Central Control Room for Air Quality Management, the level of particulates measuring less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM 2.5) reached an unprecedented high of 560 micrograms per cubic metre Sunday, while PM10 touched a high of 665.9.

Why such situation in Delhi?

  • Stubble burning: Every year, when farmers harvest their paddy crop in north India, they are left with an annoying stubble that is hard, expensive to pull out of the ground and has no commercial use after extraction. The problem has progressively gotten worse over the years as the stubble has gotten even harder with increased use of fertilisers and pesticides, resulting in cattle instinctively avoiding rice straw and increasing farmer costs by dulling implements when cutting this straw. Farmers have a viable option of burning this stubble.
  • Geographical factors:
    • The wind coming from across the border over Lahore blows from northwest towards southeast. Most of the stubble burning happens in the area that lies between the latitudes of Delhi and Chandigarh. It is the wind that brings the smoke from agriculture burning to Delhi.
    • The wind moves through the Gangetic plains of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and consequently, the towns and cities in these areas also suffer some of the consequences of stubble-burning in northwest.
    • In fact, the cities of Kanpur and Lucknow have had pretty bad air quality in the last few days, along with Delhi. The AQI in Kanpur on November 2 afternoon, according to CPCB data, was 384, and that in Lucknow was 420, worse than even Delhi.
    • Last year, the WHO had come out with a global report that had revealed that 14 of the 15 cities in the world with the highest concentration of PM2.5 levels were in India.
    • Ten of these cities were in this same Gangetic belt. This included places like cities far off from Delhi like Patna, Gaya, Varanasi and Muzaffarpur, which are not known for having local sources of very high pollution.
  • Industrial and vehicular pollution: The smoke from stubble, and industrial and vehicular pollution further add to the air locking, which can be broken either by rain or by fast winds. The absence of rain or fast winds leads to the accumulation of pollutants in the air.


  • Stopped entry of trucks into Delhi (except essential commodities)
  • Stopped construction work
  • Introduced odd/even scheme for private vehicles and minimise exemptions
  • Task Force to decide any additional steps including shutting of schools
  • The announcement came soon after the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) ordered a complete shutdown of construction in Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad and Greater Noida as PM 2.5 concentration breached the 300 micrograms per cubic metre mark.
  • The action is part of a series of incremental steps to be taken under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) as the quality of the air deteriorates.

Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP):

  • Stricter measures to fight air pollution came into force in Delhi and its neighbourhood on October 15 this year, as part of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP).
  • GRAP was approved by the Supreme Court in 2016, and notified in 2017. It comprises a series of measures that come into force incrementally as pollution increases.
  • GRAP is an emergency measure. It does not include the action that various state governments are expected to take throughout the year to tackle industrial, vehicular, and combustion emissions.
  • If air quality reaches the ‘Severe+’ stage, GRAP mandates that schools must be shut down, and the odd-even road-space rationing scheme must be implemented.

What is required to be done to tackle the stubble burning nightmare?

  • Changing Economies of Farmers:  The only solution to this annual stubble burning nightmare lies in changing the economics of the farmer by making collection and disposal of stubble more rewarding than burning. 
  • The supply of such stubble by farmers to power plants can be a source of additional income instead of becoming a cost.
  • Central government, through one of their power procurement agencies like Power Trading Corporation or NTPC can offer an attractive power price to private power producers for electricity generated from this stubble. The power price offered needs to both justify making an investment in a new power plant and also enabling the power producer to pay a price to the farmer for the stubble that justifies its collection and transportation.
  • Mobilization of Resources: India has seen more than $42 billion invested in renewable energy since 2014, mainly in new solar and wind power plants, simply because the power price was considered sufficiently lucrative to justify the risks. A fraction of this capital can permanently solve the stubble burning crisis and the same players in renewable energy that are now larger and much better financed can be the executors of this strategy.

Case study from Thailand:

  • Thailand faced a problem from rice husk. Rice husk (a completely different product than stubble) was viewed as a nuisance product by rice mills and there were limited uses of this husk.
  • The government of Thailand introduced the “Very Small Power Plant” scheme for biomass projects below 10 MW that offered very attractive tariffs.
  • Within the span of five years, this waste rice husk had gone from fetching the rice mills a price that barely recovered transportation cost to becoming a significant source of revenue and an essential source of profits for rice mill operations.

Source: https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/delhi-pollution-lets-pay-the-price-of-clean-air-quality-index-smog-odd-even-6103211/

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