On November 11, space agency NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) noted that stubble burning in the States of Punjab and Haryana had led to a sharp deterioration of air quality in northwestern India.
NASA observed that fire activity increased in the month of November due to acceleration in the pace of burning stubble. It stated, “On November 11, 2021, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite acquired this natural-colour image of a river of smoke streaming from fires in Punjab and Haryana toward Delhi, one of India’s most populous cities.” The space agency added that fires in Pakistan had also contributed to the smoke.
According to Pawan Gupta, who works at Marshall Space Flight Center in NASA, at least 22 million people were affected by smoke produced due to stubble burning on November 11 alone. NASA informed that sensors in India’s National capital had recorded the level of PM 2.5 and PM 10 at above 400 micrograms per cubic meter on several occasions in November, which is higher than the WHO recommended level of 15 micrograms per cubic meter.
Using the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite of NASA, scientist Hiren Jethva concluded, “Earlier in the summer, we saw one of the largest Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) values in the 20-plus year record. Based on that, I predicted this would be one of the most active fire seasons on record, and that is exactly what we have seen. We still have a few weeks of burning to go, but already Aqua MODIS has detected more than 17,000 hotspots in Punjab and Haryana—making this the most active fire season on record.”
By November 16, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) sensor detected over 74000 hotspots in Punjab. The number is closer to the 85000 hotspots that were detected by the sensor in 2016. While speaking about the impact of government campaigns to deter farmers from burning stubble, Pawan Gupta said, “Over nine years of VIIRS observation, we don’t see much of a trend in Punjab. However, in Haryana, we saw a 45 percent decrease in the total number of fires in 2020 compared to the 2012-2019 average. But fire counts seem to be on the higher end in Haryana again this year.”
Opindia explained NASA data and impact of Stubble burning on air quality
According to the Fire Information for Resource Management System of NASA, the incident of fires in Punjab and Haryana have gone up significantly in the month of October, with it reaching its peak in the last week. Social media users also have pointed out how the farmers burning their stubble are responsible for the pollution, not firecrackers.
NASA used red dots to indicate incidents of fire caught by satellites, and the maps for 31st October and 5th November showed that almost the entire state of Punjab was covered with red dots, which meant that crop residues were being burnt at almost all the farmland in the state to clear the land for the next cultivation. Similarly, a large portion of Haryana was also covered with such red dots indicating fire.
In November last year, the contribution of stubble burning to the pollution in Delhi had reached 40%. And there was nothing to suggest that circumstances this year would be drastically different.
There was also an indication that the farmers timed stubble burning with Diwali so that the pollution caused by them was blamed on firecrackers. When Swarajya Magazine editor Arihant Pawariya asked a farmer why they were burning stubble during Diwali, the farmer had replied that nobody will catch them as it was the time of the festivals.
Therefore, even if there was no bursting of firecrackers due to Diwali, Delhi’s air quality would not have been any better. Due to wind direction, the smoke from the stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana move towards Delhi, where it remains stationary due to the lack of wind movement in the region. Fog caused by lower temperate captures the pollutants in the air and keep them suspended in the air for a longer time, which creates toxic smog.
Supreme Court concluded that major cause of air pollution in Delhi was not ‘stubble burning’
Amidst the deteriorating Air Quality Index (AQI) in the National Capital, the Centre told the Supreme Court that stubble burning in neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab was not a major contributor to air pollution. Earlier, the Union government told the apex court that stubble burning contributed to only 10% of the pollution and thus is not a major cause of pollution in Delhi.
It suggested the implementation of the odd-even rule, lockdown (in the worst case scenario) and a ban on the entry of trucks in the National Capital. As such, the Supreme Court concluded that major causes of pollution are industries, transport and vehicular traffic, besides stubble burning in some areas.