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Scary smoke-signal

Opinion |

There is much welcome relief evident over the “nip” in the early morning air in the Capital that confirms the end of the hot season, though it is still premature to talk of winter and autumn is relatively brief in these climes.

Alas, the coming of cool days has its negative element, and already there are indications of a decline in the air quality in the region. This week the Air Quality Index dropped from “moderate” to “poor”, with a shift in the winds now blowing from the north-west ~ which carry to the National Capital Region the smoke resulting from the burning of crop stubble.

Even though the harvesting of the kharif has yet to get underway, and the burning of paddy straw is prohibited in Haryana more than a dozen cases have already been reported.

And the situation could worsen since agitating farmers in Punjab contend there is no alternative to burning since they do not get enough “compensation” to buy or hire the heavy tractors and allied equipment required to plough the stubble back into the soil.

Farmers in Haryana and UP also support their counterparts in Punjab in the demand for increased financial assistance, and resent the penal-regime imposed by the National Green Tribunal and state pollution control agencies.

Since the farm sector is even otherwise in distress, and there is substantial political support for agriculturists, the situation is potentially precarious ~ re-run of a city choking after Diwali is very much on the cards.

What must invite severe criticism are the authorities at the Centre and the states waiting till the harvesting season before attempting to avert the traditional practice of crop-residue burning. No attempts appear to have been made to either arrange financial relief, or make the required machinery available on hire at rates farmers could afford. There is also need to break the wheat-paddy cycle in the regional farmland.

Both the ministries for agriculture and environment at the Centre have proved somewhat comatose and, as is customary, keen on passing the buck on to the states.

Yet the Capital is both a Union Territory and a “showpiece”, so the NDA-government cannot wash its hands off the problem. It did not feel a sense of shame when FIFA ruled that none of the matches in the Under-17 World Cup could be played in Delhi after Diwali ~ when the pollution triggered by fireworks accentuates the poor air quality.

The winter is when the city normally plays host to a series of international events ~ a smog-bound metropolis where flights and trains are delayed, and vehicular traffic crawls because the visibility is so limited is hardly an “advertisement”.

And for this mess no amount of finger-pointing will serve as an alibi, the comprehensive failure cuts across the entire governance edifice.