NEW DELHI: The season of farm fires in Punjab
has begun, satellites recording around 200 fire counts in this season so far. Though the count so far is too low to impact air quality in the region so far, experts say the number is expected to rise in October as the monsoon is set to withdraw from northwest India.
The widespread post-harvest practice of burning of paddy-crop stubbles in Punjab and Haryana is a major contributor to air pollution in north India in October and November.
According to the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), which follows the standard protocol notified by the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas (CAQM), 139 fire counts have been recorded in Punjab from September 15 to September 26, while one such incident was detected in Haryana. Since September 1, 169 and 16 fire counts have been observed in Punjab and Haryana, respectively.
Experts said instances of stubble-burning were low at present because of wet soil in the aftermath of last week’s spell of intense rain across Punjab and Haryana.
October alert: Expect air quality to worsen once monsoon withdraws
The first few farm fires of the post-kharif harvest season have started showing up in satellite images, restricted at the moment to Punjab’s potato belt, said Vinay Sehgal, principal scientist and incharge of the Consortium for Research on Agroecosystem Monitoring and Modelling from Space (CREAMS) Laboratory at IARI.
“Stubble-burning at present is mostly happening in two districts of Punjab, Amritsar and Tarn Taran. Farmers usually plant wheat crop after harvesting paddy, but Amritsar and Tarn Taran are part of the potato belt. Hence, farmers in these two districts harvest paddy early for potato farming and plant wheat around mid-December or December-end,” said Sehgal.
He added that the farm fire season usually begins around September 15 and continues till around November 15. Though stubble-burning mostly stops in Punjab and Haryana by November 25, it continues in other places such as east UP till December, although the scale of the practice is much lower in these parts.
Gufran Beig, founder project director of System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR), said, “As fire counts are low in number, farm fires have not impacted Delhi’s air quality. Fire counts are expected to rise from October 10, when around 100 incidents would be recorded in a day. The practice usually peaks in the first week of November, when the daily count touches 5,000-6,000.”
Beig stated that after the monsoon withdraws from the region, calm conditions are expected to set in, causing deterioration of air quality from the first week of October. IARI’s data shows that Punjab recorded 83,002 crop residue burning events in 2021 as against 71,304 in 2020. Haryana saw 6,987 and 4,202 fire counts in 2021 and 2020, respectively.
Meanwhile, Delhi’s air quality deteriorated slightly on Tuesday with an overall Air Quality Index of 108 in “moderate” category. AQI in the “satisfactory” category at 100 on Monday. As per the Air Quality Early Warning System for Delhi, the AQI in the capital is likely to remain largely in the “moderate” category for the next seven days.