The role of state policy in our acute smog crisis

News: Supreme Court expressed disappointment over the air pollution in National Capital Region.

According to official data, Delhi has recorded less than 20 good air days (AQI less than 51) since 2015. This year also capital is facing the same issue.

Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) has given directions to close all educational institutions till further notice, ban all construction work, and work from home for 50 percent of government staff till November 21.

What are the reasons behind constant air pollution in Delhi?

Government policies

The crop timetable was set by Punjab in 2009 to match with the monsoon season. It was aimed at groundwater conservation by getting paddy to be fed by as much monsoon rain as possible. This pushed all further sowing seasons into a tight common band, leaving little time to harvest and sow rabi crops.

As part of our ‘mixed economy‘, we adopted a system of mass procurement for the sake of food security, which led to frequent gluts of rice and consequent excess of straw.

Work-in-silos– In the past, the problem got compounded because the Central Pollution Control Board, EPCA, transport departments, and state-level pollution management agencies worked in silos, and often at cross-purposes.

Technological issues

Mechanical harvesters– These are widely used and are faster than manual labour. However, they leave a residue of straw that farmers would rather burn than pay for eco-friendly but expensive field-clearance options. Incentive plans to cheapen the eco-friendly options have achieved little so far.

Other sources of Pollution 

Particulate matter from personal vehicles, industrial and construction activities are the major source of pollution in the region.

Road dust is the dominant source of particulate matter and the most significant impediment to clean air, but unfortunately, is not taken care of.

Bursting of crackers- Deepavali, social gatherings such as weddings see a demand for crackers around Oct-Nov. It is further compounded by less availability of green crackers leads to additional smoke from all of these.

What are some steps taken to resolve the issue?

Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority, in the past.

The new agency, instituted by the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Act in August, is mandated to frame a “holistic approach” to the NCR’s perennial problem.

What are the solutions?

Market-driven demand for food grain would adjust the price and thereby helping output reach an optimal level. This would lead to optimal production of paddy and thereby less straw generation.

Farms could diversify into pulses, oilseeds, or other crops that we’re actually short of.

Resolving distrust– A plan for a gradual shift towards a market system accompanied by strong antitrust provisions designed to shield cultivator interests would allay their anxiety.

-The state could play chief procurer until a robust market for their produce takes shape, after which it should offer a fallback cushion mandated by law.

The way forward is to view winter air pollution as a natural disaster and target root causes.

 

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