With the pollution level rising and concerns over hazardous air quality mounting at many places, I am reminded of my road trip to Delhi four years ago in mid-November to attend my niece’s wedding.
There was a slight nip the morning air common during this time of the year when we started from Chandigarh. The sky was cloudy but as soon as we crossed Ambala, to our utter dismay, we found the entire stretch engulfed in a smoky haze. The brightness of the morning was replaced by the dullness of grey. We could hardly see anything. Smog blanketed the entire area. Visibility was so poor that the vehicles plied on the highway with their head-lights on during the day time. But where was the day light? All around us there was a thick dark grey air.
Travel by an air-conditioned car saved us from inhaling toxic air on the way, but we could feel itching in the eyes and irritation in the nose and throat on reaching our destination in Delhi.
All along the highway, we could see fields, not green but blackish in colour with tell-tale signs of stubble burning. We didn’t see fire burning in any field but there was smoke coming out of many. This was four years ago. I understand the state governments have stepped up their efforts to stop stubble burning .Today, there is an extensive campaign to dissuade the farmers from burning of parali and innovative techniques are being evolved to stop the practice. But the fact is paddy straw is to be cleared to make the fields ready for the next crop and disposal of crop residue remains a challenge for the farmers and also for the government to put an end to this unhealthy practice.
Despite the ban on stubble burning, media reports tell that fields continue to be set on fire. During this part of the year when there is a dip temperature; paddy stubble burning significantly adds to the problem of environment pollution as weather conditions trap the poisonous micro particles. Along with the factors like vehicular pollution, construction dust that refuses to settle, polluting industries that run with impunity, burning of farm residue is a major pollutant in this part of the country.
I muse it is easy to blame the farmers but what about the behavior of general public during Diwali when the pollution levels skyrocket leaving everyone gasping and choking. This time again, air quality dipped significantly on Diwali as cracker ban was blown up with aplomb at many places.
Well, the festival of Diwali has always been about ‘boom’ and crackers. During my growing up days, no one preached or practiced ‘green Diwali’. Unmindful of the damage to environment, we would burst crackers from Dussehra to Diwali with gay abandon. But now that we know the consequences, it is foolishness to act irresponsibly. Besides checking industrial and vehicular pollution, it is imperative to adopt eco-friendly practices, whether for the celebration of Diwal or the disposal of parali. How can we continue to damage our own health and well-being?
(Publishes in The Tribune as Middle on 25 November 2021 )