Perturbed over rising air pollution in Delhi and the national capital region (NCR) due to burning of stubbles by farmers in neighbouring states, the Union environment ministry has written to four states - Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Rajasthan - asking them to take "stringent measures including punitive action" to stop burning of crop residue and biomass.

"I request you to launch an intense monitoring in your state including through satellite based remote sensing technologies to monitor crop residue management", said the Union environment secretary Ashok Lavasa in his letters to chief secretaries of the four states.

Referring to instances of stubble burning in massive scale, Lavasa said, "I also urge you to take stringent measures including punitive action to prevent and control burning of crop residue and biomass in agricultural fields and apprise the ministry of the action taken in this regard". 

The TOI on Monday flagged the seriousness of the issue where uncontrolled burning of paddy stubbles deteriorated the air quality. The newspaper reported that Delhi's air quality index has dramatically dropped by 60-80 points since Saturday and is now inching towards the 'very poor' zone, when children are advised not to spend time outdoors. Weather condition too has, however, played a role in the appearance of smog.

A satellite image from NASA's Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) website on Saturday showed 'fire spots', which denote blazes on the ground, all across Punjab and parts of northern Haryana. Haze can be seen enveloping a large region of northern India, including NCR.

Even the environment secretary in his note to chief secretaries has also referred to the satellite image that showed hundreds of fire spots across Punjab and parts of Haryana.

The ministry had earlier written to all these states twice in the past - first on October 2 last year and second time on September 15 this year - requesting them for compliance to the advisory issued for curbing open burning of crop residue and biomass in fields and to the 'National Policy for Management of Crop Residue - 2014' which emphasised on adoption of technical measures including diversified use of crop residue, capacity building and training.

Referring to these two earlier letters, Lavasa in his note to chief secretaries said,"It appears that both the advisories as well as measures contained in the said policy have not been implemented which is leading to occurrence of smog in the NCR region".

Source: November 3, 2015, The Times of India