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Pusa capsules on test to save Delhi from choking

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By Sidharth Mishra

GRAP, the Graded Response Action Plan — a set of anti-air pollution measures followed according to the severity of the situation, has come in to force. It’s a long list of directions to prevent pollution but the document has largely remained silent on how to grapple pollution in the national Capital from stubble burning in Punjab.

The withdrawal of Monsoon leads to drop in wind speed. This comes at a time when crop stubble is burnt in the fields of Punjab and wind direction changes to northwest. This leads to build up of pollutants in the air especially in the national Capital. GRAP is being introduced from October 1, a fortnight before the use start of stubble burning in Punjab and complete withdrawal of Monsoon.

Last year there was a Congress government in Punjab and AAP government in Delhi. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had claimed that scientists at Pusa under his guidance had invented a technique which would end stubble burning. He had promised that if AAP formed a government in Punjab, there were would be no stubble fire.

Now we have a AAP government in Delhi led by Arvind Kejriwal and a AAP government in Punjab led by Bhagwant Mann. Both the governments are known to work in close coordination and it’s expected that they would work together to ensure that pollution caused due to stubble fire remains under control.

However, it’s the efficacy of the technique developed at Pusa which is causing concern, as dissolving the crop stubble may not prove to be a substitute for burning it. For this process of stubble decomposition, four Pusa capsules have to be dissolved in water to make a 25-litre solution, which is enough to spray on one hectare of land. After the solution is sprayed, it takes about 20 to 25 days for the crop remnants to decompose.

In the national Capital region, crop burning is thought to contribute as much as 42% of all particulate matter in the air. In the neighbouring state of Haryana, which fall in the way of route taken by winds from Punjab to Delhi, PM2.5 and PM10 (a larger but also harmful form of particulate matter) rise to 2-3 times higher than National Ambient Air Quality Standard limits during the burning season.

This problem is about 10 years old, when the government decided to defer the paddy sowing season from April to June in the view of groundwater depletion. The irrigation of the crop was made totally dependent on Monsoon rains, which now lead to delay in the harvest of paddy crops. This in turn has shortened the interval between the paddy harvesting and wheat crop sowing period.

To hasten dissolution of paddy stubble, the farmers have taken to burning to make up for the lost time. Though in 2015, stubble burning was banned, the government could not implement it on the ground given the resistance from the farm community. Now a solution is sought to be provided through Pusa capsules. 

There are two cautions about Pusa capsules, one it would take, as the producers claim, 20-25 days to dissolve, a time period which the farmers may not be able to afford. Second, crop stubble is also used as cattle feed. Stubble on the fields are burnt only after enough has been stored for the livestock. Pusa capsules spray may not leave anything for the cattle.

Nevertheless, the government in Delhi hopefully manages sufficient supplies of the capsules for its counterpart in Punjab so that it reaches farmers tilling thousands of acreages of green field. It’s going to be not only a test of technology but also supply management.      

(First published in The Morning Standard)  


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