Tuesday, 28 June, 2022
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Delhi can finally breathe clean air in winter—if Punjab’s new AAP govt can convince farmers

With the new AAP government in Punjab, Delhi can expect greater collaboration to address the air pollution issue. But Kejriwal must meet a few challenges.

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For the second consecutive year, Delhi has been ranked the most polluted capital city in the world, according to the latest World Air Quality Report. The average PM2.5 concentration in Delhi increased by 14.6 per cent in 2021 – from 84.1 µg/m³ to 96.4 µg/m³. If there is any consolation, the average PM2.5 reading for 2021 is slightly better than 2019 — 98.6 µg/m³ — the pre-Covid year.

Even then, the latest estimates could be considered conservative. Several usual routine phenomena that determine the quality of air such as road traffic, construction activities, and even stubble burning were likely affected due to Covid-related restrictions and the farmers’ protest that stretched for more than a year.

Air follows no boundaries. It travels from one state to another, carrying pollutants. Managing air pollution effectively is, therefore, not just the responsibility of a single state government. A constrained Delhi government alone can only do so much under its jurisdiction to control air pollution. As such, there is a need for an airshed management approach. This simply means that Delhi’s neighbouring state governments should come together to draft, design, and implement sustainable ways of addressing the menace. While this has not been possible for a long time, owing to political and organisational context, the presence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Punjab makes it a real possibility for the upcoming season.

Don’t blame Delhi alone

The governments in Delhi have adopted several measures over the years to tackle the city’s air pollution. Buses and autos running on CNG, closing down coal-based power plants, stricter construction measures, industrial units either using cleaner fuels or PNG, increasing the fleet of road cleaning machines, significantly increasing the green cover, and the most recent announcement of having dedicated bus and truck lanes are few such measures. Unfortunately, the neighbouring states have not implemented such concentrated efforts so far. That is why we keep talking about air pollution every year.

Steps have also been taken to automate the availability of data to better understand the source behind air pollution. Delhi-NCR has 40 automated monitoring stations that generate data based on the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA)-approved beta iteration system. All of this has improved mass awareness on the alarming pollution rates, thereby paving way for a greater demand for action. However, the availability of data and knowledge and the demand from the people have so far not resulted in sustainable solutions to address and reduce poor air quality levels in Delhi.

Among various sources from outside Delhi, stubble burning has gathered much attention in recent years. How much does stubble burning in Haryana and Punjab contribute to Delhi’s air pollution? While this debate continues, there is little doubt that stubble burning influences air quality. As a matter of fact, any increase in the number of fires (mostly linked to stubble burning) in Haryana and Punjab also increases Delhi’s PM2.5 readings.

The AAP government, which has been in power in Delhi for the last two terms, has strongly and squarely blamed governments in neighbouring states for Delhi’s poor air quality. This also brings to focus the need for cooperative plans between the Delhi government and other states to address air pollution. The Arvind Kejriwal-led party repeatedly suggested that other states do not prioritise this issue, due to which Delhi has to suffer. Now, the AAP is in power in Punjab too, which should put in focus the need for cooperative plans between Delhi and other state governments.

Also read: New Delhi remains the world capital in air pollution, Swiss survey finds

A Delhi-Punjab project under AAP?

Given this context, it will now be interesting to explore and analyse the possibilities of addressing stubble burning as the source of air pollution in Delhi. AAP’s presence can mean better coordination between Delhi and Punjab for the possible adoption and implementation of an airshed management approach. For citizens in Delhi, this could very well mean a much-awaited gift.

The Pusa Bio Decomposer, developed by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research-Indian Agricultural Research Institute, is an innovative solution to convert stubble into organic manure in just two to three weeks. This economical solution has produced effective results. Based on farmers’ experience and the results from farmlands in Delhi, chief minister Kejriwal has been urging the neighbouring states and the Centre to adopt this solution. The government in Delhi can now push for the adoption of the Pusa Bio Decomposer in Punjab too.

Optimistically speaking, the collaborative effort between the two AAP-ruled states can produce some degree of positive results. This evidence should encourage other non-participatory neighbouring states to join hands and address the air pollution issue not only in Delhi but the larger Indo-Gangetic belt, which constitutes most of the polluted cities in India. In the long run, the farmers in Punjab will benefit, paving the way for a sustained effort in addressing poor air quality.

Also read: Mann, Kejriwal, Modi: Why new Punjab CM will have a tough time juggling conflicting interests

Farmers’ protest support can be a challenge

The AAP, among other issues in Punjab, has primarily come to power by tactfully working on the farmers’ issue and the consistent support it gave to the protest against the three farm laws that the Narendra Modi government eventually withdrew. Under such circumstances, the AAP will have to make efforts to keep this support base of the farmers intact. For that, the Punjab government will need to create a strong consensus for adopting economic and sustainable biodegradable solutions to dispose of farm waste, compared to non-economical methods such as using happy seeders.  The messaging on the need for such adoption should be drawn with a consensus among the major stakeholders.

There are a number of political risks involved in initiating changes to agriculture waste disposal for the AAP government, including chances of losing farmers’ support. However, the presence of the same party in power in both Delhi and Punjab suggests a strong potential for creating mechanisms for resolving the problem with possibilities for adopting sustainable methods to address stubble burning.

Dr. Pradeep Guin is Associate Professor in the Jindal School of Government and Public Policy at the O. P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana. He can be reached at pguin@jgu.edu.inDr. B. Rajeshwari is a Consultant with Niiti Consulting Private Ltd. She can be reached at rajeshwari.bala@gmail.com. Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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