Post-Diwali Crisis and Death Tolls:
Diwali brings up a lot of happiness in Indian families; but in the last few years, it has blown out thousands of lives due to pollution it causes because of the burning of fire-crackers. According to the State of India’s Environment (SoE) Report in Figures, 2019, Air pollution is responsible for 12.5 per cent of all deaths in India.1 According to Report of State of Global Air 2019, over 1.2 million die each year in India due to Air Pollution.2 These are very big numbers but these reports cover only the reported cases while there are so many deaths due to Air Pollution which goes unreported as people think that it might be a natural death. While these are the number of deaths, the number of people suffering from diseases like stroke, diabetes, heart attack, lung cancer, and chronic lung disease are just countless. A Greenpeace global report, released in March 2019, ranked Delhi as the most polluted capital in the world and Gurugram as the most polluted city.3
Causes: Stubble Burning & Firecrackers
As on November 3, 2019, Delhi’s air quality slips to the ‘severe’ category and the Air Quality Index in the city has reached 450. The two reasons which have come up upfront behind such Air Quality are Stubble Burning by Farmers and Cracker Burning on Deepawali.
In Arjun Gopal vs Union Of India4, decided on 23rd October 2018, Supreme Court recognized State’s duty of providing a healthy environment in terms of Article 48A of the Constitution as well as the duty of citizens to ensure a healthy environment in terms of Article 51A(g) of the Constitution. In this judgment, the Supreme Court issued various directions for the burning of firecrackers on Diwali and other festivals. Supreme Court permitted green crackers for manufacturing and sale which causes 30% less pollution than conventional crackers. The Court, allowed the burning of crackers between 8 PM to 10 PM on festival nights and 11:55 PM to 12:30 AM on the New year.
While in 2017, the Supreme Court had put a complete ban on crackers during Diwali. It is evident from the report of Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC) which was conducted on a proposal made by the CPCB Committee appointed by the Supreme Court that Diwali air pollution in 2017 was less compared to 2016 Diwali which was the result of the ban on fireworks in 2017. But in 2018, when the Supreme Court allowed Green Firecrackers and specified timings, the situation became similar to that of 2016; and it is now worse in 2019. Undoubtedly, a total ban on firecrackers is essential now to live in the Capital where the AQI has crossed 450 marks post-Diwali.
On the other hand, adding to make it worse is stubble burning by farmers in North Indian states like Haryana & Punjab. The union government is claiming that the cases of stubble burning have declined over the last 2 years but the ground reality is that farmers in many parts are still burning the paddy residues. According to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting & Research (SAFAR-Air), there is an increase in biomass fire activity in Haryana and Punjab which has started to influence Delhi’s AQI.5
Politics of Pollution
Politicians have indulged in blame games already over poor air quality in choking Delhi. Congress recognized this situation as “National Public Health Emergency” in their manifesto released on 29th October 2019. Answering this, Vijendra Gupta, leader of opposition in Delhi assembly raised questions to Congress over their incapability to deal with the same in 15 years of their power. He called their manifesto as election-eve opportunism. While another BJP member Manoj Tiwari also slammed Congress for their failure to address the pollution crisis. He also slammed Aam Aadmi Party for not utilizing the environmental cess in the right way and that AAP has no willpower to control the Delhi’s pollution level.
While on the other hand, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal has asked the Central Government to sit together on the issue and come up with a solution. While he looks to defend Delhi people over Delhi’s situation, he pinned out that such a condition has arrived because of stubble burning by farmers in the state of Haryana & Punjab. He slammed the state governments of Haryana and Punjab for not taking preventive measures to stop the farmers from burning paddy residues.
Replying to Kejriwal, Haryana’s Deputy CM said that we should rise above politics to combat the situation of severe pollution. He also claimed that the burning of paddy residues has decreased by 34% this year and constant efforts by central and state governments will ensure that this will decrease further in the coming years. Citing data from NASA, he said that Punjab is mostly responsible for Delhi’s air condition and not Haryana.
Captain Amrinder Singh, Punjab’s CM also has shown his concern over the situation and urges the Central government to intervene and take preventive measures to fight against pollution. Admitting that stubble fires, supported by the winds blowing in the wrong direction, were contributing to the toxic levels of air pollution that prevail today in Delhi, the Chief Minister, at the same time, noted that data from several independent agencies had pointed out that large-scale industrial pollution, the traffic overload, the excessive construction activity taking place in Delhi were equally, if not more, to blame.
Stubble Burning: A Compulsion for Farmers
If we look at the situation of stubble burning from a farmer’s point of view, it is a compulsion for them due to lack of modern equipment, no compensation, and absence of manual labor. In an interaction with team Law Circa, farmers of Karnal and Kurukshetra region have expressed their concern over the situation. According to them, the use of modern machinery is impractical as they are expensive and not accessible. With the no compensation received from either central or state government, affording the modern machinery is not an alternative for them of stubble burning. When asked about the compensation amount given, they said the compensation is only on papers and the ground reality is quite different. While state and central government have claimed that the compensation amount is being given to farmers, the farmers in the northern region of India have totally negated the claim. Few farmers in Punjab have received compensation of Rs 2000 from Captain Amrinder Singh’s Government but the amount is too low to afford for either modern machinery or manual labor. While discussing the effects of stubble burning to the environment, farmers in Haryana said that they are aware of this fact very well but they are left with no alternative because both, manual labor and modern machinery, is unaffordable for them. According to them, the prices of rice this season were very low due to moisture and bad monsoon and they were not able to even feed their families by their earnings. We also talked with farmers who can afford modern machinery but yet chose stubble burning over that. According to them, the modern machineries are not so effective as they leave about half a foot crop residue, which can only be removed either by stubble burning or manual labor. Due to lack of manual labor, farmers are opting for stubble burning as they are left with no other options.
Time To Rise Above Politics!
Halloween may well be over but Delhi has refused to take the mask off. While the blame games between the political parties are still on, people in the NCR are suffering because of noxious air condition, unending blame games, and less adequate measures. AAP has started the odd-even formula in Delhi from November 4, but how much will it be effective is a thing to watch. It is now high time to ponder over the situation and take necessary steps so that it may not occur in the coming years. What has been done is done and now it’s time to take preventive measures for this in the future. It was clear from the report of MAMC that the post-Diwali pollution was least in the year 2017 when there was a complete ban on crackers. It is now time to learn from this situation and a complete ban on crackers will be a step that will ensure that Air Quality in Delhi is maintained. Now coming to the farmer’s grief, even after a complete ban on stubble burning, it is yet prevalent in Haryana & Punjab proves the inefficiency of such a plan. There is a need for spreading awareness among the farmers about the degradation of the environment and there is a need to provide proper alternatives for stubble burning. With the decrease in crop prices, a low amount of compensation is not enough. And at last, we shall also look into ourselves and by blaming the government for all this, we are indulging ourselves in this blame game. While there is a need for the government to sit together and take big steps to tackle this issue, there is also a need to contribute our bit towards the environment.
1. State of India’s Environment (SoE) Report in Figures, 2019, accessed from https://www.cseindia.org/air-pollution-kills-an-average-8-5-out-of-every-10-000-children-in-india-9460
2. State of Global Air Report 2019, accessed from https://www.stateofglobalair.org/sites/default/files/soga_2019_report.pdf
3. Green Global Annual Report 2019, accessed from https://www.globalgreen.org/press-1
4. Arjun Gopal and others vs Union Of India and others, WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 213 OF 20175. System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting & Research (SAFAR-Air) Report, accessed from http://safar.tropmet.res.in/
Anmol SyanCo-founder, Author
A candid writer, sociable soul, ever-enthusiastic boy and a man full of composure. He is the heart, soul and a proud member of team Law Circa. For any clarifications, feedback, and advice, you can reach him at [email protected]