While Diwali, which spooks India’s judiciary, celebrities, NGT and other environmentalists with its firecrackers, is about three weeks behind us, Delhi continues to be polluted by smoke emanating from the burning stubbles in the fields of Punjab and Haryana, even as Union Minister for Agriculture Narendra Singh Tomar has given the farmers a clean chit. But the pollution now is so bad that it is visible from space, shows images posted by American space agency Nasa that has also identified the cause.
The Nasa Earth photos show “heightened fire activity in Northwestern India as farmers burn off excess paddy straw after the rice harvest”. Farmers in Punjab and Haryana use fire as a quick and cheap way to get rid of stubble while making the land more fertile at the same time.
In a blog, Nasa has said that while the lingering monsoon rains have kept fire activity at low levels for a few weeks longer than usual, on 11 November, the agency’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite acquired a natural-colour image of a river of smoke streaming from fires in Punjab and Haryana towards Delhi.
The blog said that fires in northern Pakistan likely aggravated the situation.
“Looking at the size of the plume on November 11 and the population density in this area, I would say that a conservative estimate is that at least 22 million people were affected by smoke on this one day,” Pawan Gupta, a Universities Space Research Association (USRA) scientist at the Marshall Space Flight Center of Nasa said in the blog post.
In a Twitter thread, The Weather Channel India explained the whole phenomenon, citing the image from Nasa. “The images captured by @NASA underline the magnitude of the #StubbleBurning problem by depicting a massive “river of smoke” originating from fires in Punjab, Haryana and even north Pakistan, stretching towards Delhi,” The Weather Channel India’s Twitter thread said.