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How are taxpayers in Delhi and nearby regions paying to actually choke themselves?

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A joint opinion piece by Jessica Seddon, Fellow, Chadha Center for Global India at Princeton University, and Ashok Gulati, Infosys Chair Professor for Agriculture at ICRIER, states that the people of Indo- Gangetic plains, especially Delhi, are living in a “highly-polluted airshed” and “choking toward a slow death.”

What is the greater problem?

With the onset of the winter season in the country, the wind speed as well as the temperature drops leading to the accumulation of suspended particulate matter also abbreviated as PM. The climatic factors make the already choking pollution in Delhi and surrounding cities get another push and reach astounding levels. The pollution is majorly a result of pollution from dust, construction, congested traffic, waste-burning and power generation, and the burning of paddy stubble in Punjab, Haryana, and Western Uttar Pradesh.

This pollution top-up from the burning of paddy stubble in Haryana, Punjab, and Western Uttar Pradesh varies daily. As per SAFAR’s reading from October 24 to November 19, this pollution top-up has varied from 1 to 42 percent of the total pollution. Even though the share may be small and negligible on certain days, on a general note, it is a big chunk of the poison. The contribution of Agriculture to air pollution runs even deeper than what happens between crop seasons.

Delhi, or the Indo-Gangetic plain at large, is one of the world’s largest and continuously- growing ammonia hotspots. Atmospheric ammonia comes from animal husbandry, fertilizer use, and other agricultural practices. It then combines with emissions from transportation, power plants, and other fossil-fuel-burning to form fine particles.

It is true that agriculture alone is not responsible for all of the pollutions in the areas, however, the irony around the agricultural pollution is that taxpayers are technically paying for it through a system of subsidies. The subsidies motivate the produce and the very behaviors that ultimately convert into the agricultural emissions that the tax payers choke on to.

How does the subsidy system retch the taxpayer?

A lot of attention is being drawn on how to change the disposal of paddy stubble but why the root problem of the rise in stubble remains unaddressed and unattended. Our current system of subsidies is one of the biggest causes behind the stubble being present in these fields in the first place. Free power, free water pumped from the ground, and subsidized crop materials are a big part of what makes growing rice in the Indo-Gangetic plains more and more attractive. As much as 15 percent of the value of rice produced in the Punjab- Haryana belt belongs to the subsidized category.

Another added incentive is the process of open-ended procurement of paddy despite the over-crowded stocks of food grains with the Food Corporation of India (FCI).

Fertilizer is one of the major subsidized agricultural products that cause harm to the environment. The primary reason behind the surge in ammonia pollution is the way fertilizers are used. The highly subsidized fertilizer is particularly urea in granular form and is also one of the cheapest forms of nitrogen-based fertilizer. It is easy to store and transport, but is also one of the first to “volatilize.” This means that it does not take much time to release ammonia into the air.

How is the central government helping to battle the pollution in the country’s capital Delhi?

Union Minister Prakash Javadekar says that the central government was doing all it can and taking all possible steps to combat air pollution in Delhi and other parts of the northern plains ahead of this year’s winter season.

At the launch of the country’s first demonstration plant of Praj Industries, a private firm that produces compressed biogas from biomass, the Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change said that the government will be using all the possible technological interventions towards protecting the environment and reducing the air pollution in the region. He also mentioned that although stubble burning is an inexpensive way to get rid of agricultural waste, it is highly contagious to the air quality in Delhi and other northern States.

How can technology prove to be of help in this fight against air pollution?

A Pusa decomposer has been created by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, spraying which, the stubble dissolves. The decomposer provides an affordable way to get rid of stubble and has already been used in five States. The results are still awaited and is expected to be a very big success if approved by the experts.

The use of technology by way of gas, decomposers, and other machinery will successfully safeguard the northern Indian region, severely affected by the incessantly degrading air quality, from air pollution due to stubble burning.

What are the other steps being undertaken by the center to battle the harmful pollutants?

  1. The polluting industries are being monitored continuously.
  2. Another step taken up to deal with the pollution is reusing almost 6000 tons of debris and waste material generated at construction sites for making paver blocks and tiles.
  3. Moreover, as a response to the “the land cannot take it anymore” level of pollution, some thermal power projects have been shut down by the government.
  4. Another campaign launched by the honorable prime minister of India Narendra Modi, Atmanirbhar Bharat, also encourages and promotes the conversion of agricultural residue and biomass into biofuel.
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