Indian farmers continue to burn stubble despite health risks

SAMARKHA, India, Nov 7 (Reuters) – Smallholder farmer Aashish Sharma is aware of the impact on the air in his neighborhood and in the world’s most polluted capital, New Delhi, about a three-hour drive away. Despite this, they have been burning crop stubble for the past few days. road.

The air quality in Sharma’s village in Haryana state is so poor that her uncle, who has asthma, has difficulty breathing and requires a nebulizer to pump medicine directly into his lungs.

“We know that stubble burning is harmful to the health of parents and children especially,” said Sharma, 22, from Karnal, a village known for growing rice and wheat.

But for him, the only option to burn crop residue is to join the line to hire machinery to clear the fields, which would cost about $100 for a four-acre farm.

The average wait time to rent a machine is approximately two weeks. The purchase price of nearly 300,000 rupees ($3,606) is unaffordable for small farmers in villages and highlights the challenges faced by authorities trying to improve northern India’s air quality each winter. they said.

More than 85% of farmers in India are classified as smallholder farmers. So, like Sharma, he owns about 4 acres or less. Together, they control 47% of the country’s acreage, according to government statistics.

Residents of Delhi and surrounding areas of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab experienced some of the world’s dirtiest air last week, according to data from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

While primary schools are closed and road traffic is regulated in Delhi, international cricketers in the city skipped practice ahead of Monday’s World Cup match.

Stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana typically accounts for 30% to 40% of Delhi’s pollution in October-November, according to the government’s air quality monitoring agency SAFAR.

In response to government incentives and fines, the government estimates that the number of fires this year has fallen by 40-50% from a year ago, nearly a dozen farmers across three villages in Karnal told Reuters. He said the fires will continue.

“Thousands of acres of stubble have been burnt, but so far no one in our village has been fined,” said Dharamvir Singh, who has cleared 10 acres of land in this way. He added that he would do the same for an additional 10 to 15 acres of owned and leased land.

“I have a cough every day and my eyes feel irritated, but I would rather take medicine or drink in the evening than incur the extra cost.”

lack of political will

Haryana farm official Ajay Singh Rana said the number of farms burning stubble in Karnal has come down to 96 so far this year from 270 last year. He said fines were issued in 73 cases.

Sharma’s uncle, Mukhi Ram Sharma, said he was at home most of the time the fire was going on.

“For the past month, I have been having difficulty breathing and feeling very uncomfortable,” the 75-year-old said.

Over the weekend, Reuters confirmed that at least 10 farm fires broke out in the villages of Samarka, Barota and Budhanpur in Karnal district in the late evening when the risk of detection is considered low. According to CPCB data, the air quality index (AQI) in the district has been listed as ‘very poor’ at over 300 for the past few days.

In Delhi, the figure remains well above 400, where low wind speeds also help trap other emissions from traffic and industry.

Some Haryana residents said authorities were hesitant to take tough action against farmers, who make up a significant percentage of the vote, ahead of general elections scheduled for early next year.

“Nobody has the political will to stop this nuisance,” said Bajinder Pal Punia, 54, adding that his two daughters’ outdoor wrestling practice had been disrupted due to the pollution.

(1 dollar = 83.1750 Indian rupees)

Reporting by Manoj Kumar, additional reporting by Anushree Fadnavis.Editing: Barbara Lewis

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