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ET Special Podcast (ET Online)

The curious case of Delhi's pollution

03:06 Min | November 04, 2019, 5:58 PM IST
The National Capital is facing a collective death sentence in the form of pollution. Is it stubble burning, is it your car, is it the crackers we burnt, is it our netas? Listen to the Special Podcast for more on the burning issue.
Hosts: Poorabi Gaekwad, Deepshikha Rahi
Producer: Deepshikha Rahi

If you are living in the Capital today, there is a possibility that you will die 7 years early or smoked 33 cigarettes already.

A collective death sentence is how one doctor describes life in the Capital now. So how did it go this bad?

Is stubble burning, is it your car, is it the crackers we burnt, is it our netas, can eating carrots or listening music really fix it, most importantly ...do we really care?

Hello, I'm Deepshikha Rahi and I am Poorabi Gaekwad. In this podcast let's try to get into the root of this mess we are breathing in..

Everyone says stubble burning, is that the cause?

Crop fires yes, but the root case is water.


Or its management in agriculture. Ever since green revolution, we have been planting more and more water intensive crops all over India. Punjab, Haryana, the so-called culprits, are no different.

In order to stop water depletion, India tweaked irrigation practices. This led farmers to plant water intensive crops in quick succession.
To clear the land, farmers began resorting to crop fires.

What about subsidy to fix the stubble?

Farmers prefer to burn stubble and pay the fine rather than weed out the stubbles. The cost of stubble burning is cheaper as penalty reportedly works out to be around Rs 2,500 per acre. But if they don't burn it then the stubble processing cost comes around Rs 6,000-7,000 per acre. Add to that the cost of machinery, fuel and labour charges.

Even if we fix that part, the bad news is that it will take at least half a decade before any major improvements can be seen in the air quality of Delhi-NCR and beyond.

The lid on Delhi

Delhi is cursed with poor geography as far as air pollution is concerned. Because of its topography, Delhi bears the brunt of a phenomenon called inversion where warm air rests above the colder air closer to the ground, preventing it from mixing upwards thereby trapping all that we put into it, your stubble, car smoke, crackers – almost like a lid.

This lid extends across the Indo-Gangetic plain through much of the winter months, leaving it covered in a haze that you are seeing and breathing now.

So lid plus smoke, you choke....

And what is the solution?

We need collective action, not carrots. A genuine solution is for Punjab and Haryana to shift away from rice to growing maize, cotton, fruit and vegetables. To be fair, the two states have taken steps to wean farmers away from water-intensive rice to cotton and maize.

As for the issue of toxic air, stubble burning is not the only reason. Cars and construction are equally significant contributors.

The choice is between anti-PM2.5 masks with blinkers or coming forward and accepting common responsibilities.

That's all in this special podcast.

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