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Extra Bytes: Health Emergency in Delhi

Health emergency in Delhi-NCR

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In News: (Health Emergency in Delhi)

  • As pollution levels reached hazardous levels, the Supreme Court appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority or EPCA declared a public health emergency in Delhi-NCR.

News Summary:

  • Delhi’s air quality index (AQI) on Friday, according to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), was at 484 — the highest this season. The previous high in 2019 was on January 3 when the AQI stood at 444.
  • PM2.5 in Delhi crossed the severe plus level of 300 micrograms per cubic metre. PM10 also breached the severe plus mark of 500 microgram per cubic metre. The safe standards for these ultrafine pollutants are, respectively, 60 and 100 micrograms per cubic metre.
  • In terms of NCR, Noida had the worst air quality in the entire country with an AQI of 500, followed by Ghaziabad and Greater Noida, both at 496, Faridabad at 479 and Gurgaon at 469.

Stubble burning a major cause:

  • While industries and vehicular emissions are major contributors to pollution, farm fires in winters are a huge factor.
  • According to SAFAR, stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana contributed 44% to the PM2.5 load in Delhi, aided by north-westerly winds towards the capital.
  • System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) is the forecasting agency under the Union ministry of Earth Sciences.
  • Delhi Chief minister asked Haryana and Punjab state governments to fix timelines to stop stubble burning in their states.

Immediate measures notified:

  • The EPCA has written to chief secretaries of Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana and UP and directed the cessation of construction activities, hot mix plants and stone crushers in Delhi, Faridabad, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad, Noida and Greater Noida till the morning of November 5.
  • All coal and other fuel-based industries that hadn’t shifted to natural gas or agro-residue too would remain shut in Faridabad, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad, Noida, Bahadurgarh, Bhiwadi, Greater Noida, Sonipat and Panipat till November 5 morning.
  • The EPCA has also banned bursting of crackers during the entire winter season.
  • The Delhi government announced shutting down of schools during the same period.

About Air Quality Index (AQI):

  • Air Quality Index is a tool for effective communication of air quality status to people in terms, which are easy to understand.
  • The AQI categories are shown in the figure below.
  • These categories are decided based on ambient concentration values of air pollutants and their likely health impact.
  • AQI measures eight pollutants (PM10, PM2.5, CO, O3, NO2, SO2, NH3, and Pb) for which short-term (upto 24-hours) National Ambient Air Quality Standards are prescribed.
Health Emergency in Delhi
Air Quality Index
Health Emergency in Delhi
Air Quality Index Specifications

Stubble burning high in Punjab and Haryana:

  • Fires are raging across Punjab and Haryana are severely choking Delhi.
  • Farmers in these states set their fields on fire after paddy harvest, seeing it as the quickest way to get rid of paddy stubble before wheat can be sown.
  • Between September 23 and October 31, the Remote Sensing Centre at Ludhiana registered 22,137 cases of active fires across Punjab, a 22% jump compared to last year with 17,646 cases.
  • Paddy is grown in 29 lakh hectares in Punjab, generating a massive 22 million tonnes of straw after harvest.
  • In Haryana, where 13 lakh hectares are under paddy cultivation, 4,257 fires were recorded in October.

Happy Seeders can help reduce stubble burning:

  • Governments in Punjab and Haryana say they provided subsidies to farmers to buy equipment for paddy straw management.
  • Punjab has spent Rs 500 crore since last year on subsidies and Happy Seeders — on 28,000 such machines last year and 17,000 this year.

These machines have limitations:

  • With prices ranging from Rs 55,000 to Rs 2.7 lakh after subsidies, they are out of reach for most farmers.
  • Those who have invested in the machines said the cost of diesel per acre was too high.
  • While it could be an economically viable option would be for a group of farmers to pool in money to buy a machine and take turns to use it on their fields, there is often not enough time before the sowing season starts.
  • Even if it works for nine hours a day, a Happy Seeder can operate on only seven acres.
  • For example, if Paddy is planted in 1,000 acres in a village, at least 15 Happy Seeders would be needed to plant wheat in time.

Farmers demanding increase in MSP or incentive to stop stubble burning:

  • In both states, farmers demand an increase in minimum support price for paddy or Rs 6,000 per acre labour cost to make the investment worthwhile.

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