Punjab and Haryana have recorded more incidents of stubble burning this season so far compared to last year and it is largely due to early harvesting of paddy and unavailability of farm labour due to the coronavirus pandemic, officials said on Saturday.
According to the Punjab Pollution Control Board, the state has recorded 4,585 farm fires this season so far compared to 1,631 such incidents during the corresponding period last year.
Haryana has also recorded an increase in farm fires -- from around 1,200 incidents till October 16 last year to 2,016 this year.
Karunesh Garg, Member Secretary of the Punjab Pollution Control Board, however, said the number of stubble burning incidents seem large because of early harvesting of paddy this year.
"Around 17 lakh metric tonnes of paddy was harvested till October 15 last year. This year, the figure is around 40 lakh metric tonnes. It shows that farmers harvested their crop early this year," he said.
The monsoon season continued until September-end last year, delaying harvesting of paddy, Garg said.
Earlier this week, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar had asked Punjab to control stubble burning after air quality in the national capital hit "very poor" levels.
Garg said it was wrong to blame Punjab for Delhi’s bad air.
"Stubble burning in Punjab may be a factor but its contribution to Delhi's pollution is less than one per cent," he asserted.
An official from the Haryana government said the number of farm fires in the state has "certainly increased" as compared to last year. "It can be attributed to the unavailability of farm labour due to the COVID-19 pandemic."
S Narayanan, member secretary of the Haryana Pollution Control Board, said, "The number of farm fires, so far, is more than last year... Maybe it is due to early harvesting. So, it is too early to predict whether we will end up burning more stubble than last year.”
"Most farm fires occur in Sirsa, Fatehabad and Kaithal. The administration has not been able to completely control stubble burning in those areas. Efforts are on."
According to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR), the contribution of farm fires to Delhi's PM2.5 concentration rose from around 6 per cent on Thursday to 18 per cent on Friday.
On Saturday, it is estimated to be around 19 per cent, SAFAR said. It was only around one per cent on Wednesday and around 3 per cent on Tuesday, Monday and Sunday.
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) had Friday said meteorological conditions in Delhi have been "extremely unfavourable" for dispersion of pollutants since this September as compared to last year.
With less area under non-basmati paddy cultivation this time, CPCB Member Secretary Prashant Gargava hoped the number of stubble burning incidents will be fewer this year compared to 2019.
Non-basmati paddy straw is considered useless as fodder because of its high silica content and so farmers burn it.
Gargava also said stubble burning peak might not coincide with the peak of adverse meteorological conditions this year due to early harvesting of paddy.
With Delhi-NCR bracing for months of poor air quality, experts have warned that high levels of air pollution can aggravate the COVID-19 situation. Severe air pollution in Delhi is a year-round problem, which can be attributed to unfavourable meteorological conditions, farm fires in neighbouring regions and local sources of pollution.
According to an analysis by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a Delhi-based think tank, transportation contributes the most -- 18 to 39 per cent -- to Delhi's air pollution. Road dust is the second-largest source of air pollution in the city (18 to 38 per cent), followed by industries (2 to 29 per cent), thermal power plants (3 to 11 per cent) and construction (8 per cent).