The menace of stubble burning in Northern India is not a new phenomenon. As winter approaches, major parts of north India are covered in a smoky haze, primarily caused by the stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana, and to a lesser extent in states of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
This year too, stubble burning in some states of north India have already started. According to satellite images released by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), plumes of smoke are seen over Delhi, and other parts of north India, raising concerns over deteriorating air quality that usually accompanies the smog caused by stubble burning.
Stubble burning could aggravate COVID-19 situation in north India
Every year, Delhi and the surrounding places witness a steady deterioration of air quality during the months of winter because of a host of reasons such as unfavourable weather, stubble burning and local sources of pollution. However, this time around, the situation is more serious, considering the country is in the throes of an unprecedented coronavirus crisis, a pandemic known for causing serious respiratory complications.
Doctors and environmental experts believe that stubble burning and the subsequent deterioration of air quality could aggravate the COVID-19 situation in north India and pose a major challenge for the government to cope with the effects of worsening pollution on the coronavirus crisis. Coronavirus and the exacerbating air pollution could prove to be a double whammy for COVID-19 patients, who already face breathing issues due to the contagion.
According to doctors, alarming levels of air pollution causes an increase in the cases of asthma and with the hospitals already battling COVID-19, a respiratory illness, it will be difficult for them to distinguish whether a patient is suffering from asthma flare-up or coronavirus. Doctors also believe that people who are prone to dust allergies or are asthma patients are more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus and high exposure to air pollution is likely to increase their vulnerability to the contagion.
Punjab Government busy protesting as crisis looms
As per the data provided by Goddard Earth Sciences Technology and Research (GESTAR), stubble burning in Punjab is on the rise and several towns and cities of the state such as Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Kapurthala, Jalandhar, Gurdaspur, Pathankot and parts of Firozpur are already spotted in satellite images with plumes of smoke over them.
According to reports, 297 stubble burning incidents have been already reported between 21st & 25th September this year from Punjab. Last year, there had been 197 such incidents in the same period. The Supreme Court had last year made critical observations on stubble burning incidents and slammed the Punjab and Haryana governments for not doing enough to address the farmer woes.
Despite the rising number of stubble burning incidents and the Supreme Court rap, the Punjab government has turned a blind eye to the real reforms that could eliminate the chronic problems bedevilling farmers in the state and compelling them to burn the stubble. Instead, the Punjab government is busy mobilising resources to organise and support the protests against the recently passed farm bills.
Instead of addressing the pressing concern of farmers regarding stubble, Punjab’s finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal on Friday threatened the central government of approaching the Supreme Court against the recently passed farm bills.
Amritsar: Jeet Singh, a farmer says, “Farmers don’t wish to burn stubble, but we are compelled to do it as govt is not providing us with a solution. We asked District administration to take it & dump it, but they didn’t take any action. So, finally after 10 days, we burnt it.” https://t.co/I5SB3dIEV2 pic.twitter.com/kaeOKdRpaj— ANI (@ANI) September 26, 2020
The apathy of the Punjab government towards the problems faced by farmers was encapsulated by a farmer in an interview with ANI. Speaking on the issue of stubble burning, a farmer, Jeet Singh, said that the farmers don’t wish to burn the stubble and vitiate the environment but they are compelled to do it because the government has failed to provide any solution to them.
“We asked District administration to take it & dump it, but they didn’t take any action. So, finally, after 10 days, we burnt it,” he said.