Graphic shows extent of air pollution at the height of the annual stubble burning, coal production and electricity capacity.


India’s silent crisis – dirty air

By Duncan Mil

October 28, 2019 - Every November farmers in the Indian states of Punjab and Haryana burn their fields following the rice harvest, helping create a dense smog which engulfs the north Indian plain from Lahore in Pakistan to Dhaka, in Bangladesh, home to some 800 million people.

Nasa satellite data of atmospheric particulate matter, so-called PM2.5, suggest 140 million Indian citizens breathe air ten times or more over the level deemed safe by the World Health Organisation -- 10 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre.

PM2.5 refers to atmospheric particulate matter (PM) that have a diameter smaller than 2.5 micrometres, which is about one-tenth of the width of a human hair.

A study published in The Lancet has estimated that in 2017 air pollution caused as many as 1.2 million premature deaths in India -- half of them younger than 70.

Twelve of the world’s most polluted cities are in India. At the height of last year’s stubble burning the
conurbations of Patna and Muzaffarpur had PM2.5 levels of above 200 micrograms.

India is the world’s third-largest consumer of electricity behind China, and the U.S., and coal is burnt to generate some 203GW or 56 per cent of the nation’s power. India’s 246 coal-fired power plants have fuelled record production, surging from 200 million tonnes in 1990-91 to 730 million in 2018-19.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has adopted stricter vehicle-emissions standards and plans that solar power will make up an impressive-sounding 36 per cent of generation capacity by 2030. However, solar accounted for just 8.5 per cent of capacity in September 2019, according to the Central Electricity Authority in New Delhi.

To curb alarming pollution levels during winter months, the Punjab government is making around 28,000 subsidised agro-machines such as Happy Seeder, Zero Till and Mulcher available to farmers. Happy Seeder is a tractor-mounted machine that cuts and lifts rice straw, sows wheat into the bare soil, and deposits the straw over the planted area as mulch.

The Delhi government also plans to distribute five million anti-pollution masks during the first two weeks of November to try to counter the stubble-burning farmers of Punjab and Haryana.

PUBLISHED: 28/10/2019; STORY: Graphic News
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