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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Farm fires leave rural areas gasping for breath


Farm fires leave rural areas gasping for breath

Aman Sood

Tribune News Service

Patiala, October 8

Each year air quality in the state deteriorates after paddy is harvested, but the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) has “no mechanism to record the air quality index (AQI) and get real-time data in villages” where a majority of the stubble is burnt. The data compiled by manual machines installed by the PPCB in villages confirm that the pollution level is high in villages and winters in particular are the most polluted.

Official data accessed by The Tribune shows that a majority of the villages in the state suffer from poor to very poor quality of air in winter months when the wind speed is low and the pollution level in air increases due to continuous stubble burning. The comparison from the past two years show that usually the microgram per cubic metre pollution is more in villages than cities in the winter months — from October to February.

From the past few years the state depends on modern air monitoring stations located in Ludhiana, Khanna, Mandi Gobindgarh, Patiala, Amritsar and Jalandhar which give accurate real-time data on Air Quality Index and the same is shared almost every day. However, none of these five stations are located in rural Punjab, where most of the stubble is burnt.

PPCB officials have about 48 manual machines to record air quality, 24 of them located in villages. The ratings on these machines tell a different story with air quality in the ‘poor to very poor’ category in terms of particulate matter in Punjab villages where a majority of the stubble burning takes place. While a majority of urban Punjab breathes moderate to poor air quality, the villages usually breathe poor quality air due to various emissions.

The state depends on the air-monitoring stations in six cities, whereas stubble-burning occurs in villages. Data compiled by the manual stations, a majority of them from rural Punjab, shows that the air quality almost throughout the year is “moderate” to “poor”. “For measuring AQI, the six stations in the cities depend on the flow of air through their machines despite the fact that wind velocity is as low as 2 km per hour for most part of the day,” said a PPCB official.

“We have limited resources to monitor air quality in villages and the readings taken through portable devices only tell particulate matter reading and not the AQI,” said PPCB spokesperson Charanjit Singh.

An AQI station requires an investment of Rs 1 crore. “Till enough funds are received, we will have to rely on AQI stations in the cities,” said a PPCB official.

A senior official attached with the stubble-burning developments claimed that there was no denying fact that the reading from manual stations in months of October and November in villages was alarmingly high as the wind speed was low and the farmers “continue to burn stubble”. “The manual machines record air quality every alternate day and its average reading can be hit in case of a thunderstorm or stubble being burnt nearby,” he added.

Confirming the developments, PPCB Member Secretary Karunesh Garg said the pollutants in villages were high due to residue from paddy flying in the air and also due to residue from grain markets impacting local air quality. “Villagers in the state are more prone to fall sick due to the poor quality of air and it is high time they shun stubble burning completely as it is impacting their own health,” he said.

The burning issue

The PPCB has “no mechanism to record the AQI and get real-time data in villages” where a majority of the stubble is burnt. Official data accessed by The Tribune shows that a majority of the villages suffer from poor to very poor quality of air in winters when the wind speed is low and the pollution level in air increases due to continuous stubble-burning. 

On the rise

The average AQI at Poohli village in Bathinda was 121 RSPM in 2017, 165 in 2018 and over 100 till Sept in 2019. In Bara Pind village of Goraya, the AQI was recorded at a high of 249 in 2018 and is averaging over 140 in 2019. On the outskirts of Amritsar, the manual reading shows AQI at 183 in 2015, 246 in 2016, 200 in 2017 and 164 in 2018. 

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