Rains, winds may bring some relief but farm fires to increase

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New Delhi|Chandigarh: Northern India can expect a temporary respite from the
air pollution emergency as a spell of rain and favourable wind is forecast by Friday. But farm fires in Punjab and Haryana are also likely to increase as a good chunk of the summer-sown crop has still not been harvested and will leave behind stubble.

The rain can further improve Delhi’s air quality, which was already better than Sunday, when the city’s pollution had risen to a record with the Air Quality Index (AQI) at more than 1,000. On Monday, it fell below 200 and Beijing displaced Delhi to become the world’s most polluted city, according to Airvisual data, although an earlier 4 pm bulletin by the Central Pollution Control said Delhi’s AQI was ‘severe’ at 407.

The good news for the region is that the weather office says a western disturbance, a system of rain-bearing clouds and wind, is expected in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh as well as adjoining regions of Punjab and Haryana, the states where farmers are burning harvest residue, which makes the Air Quality Index deteriorate.

“A fresh western disturbance is approaching the north and scattered rainfall and change in wind direction is expected by November 8 in Delhi region,” the government’s System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (Safar) said in its latest assessment, adding that this is likely to positively influence the AQI.

However, this may only be temporary relief because farm fires are on the rise, and up to 30% of the summersown, or kharif, crop is still to be harvested. Further, farmers do not have time to look at other ways of clearing the residue. “Farmers need to sow wheat before November 15 so that the crop maturity is not affected by rise in temperature,” an official said.

In Punjab, “farm fires are on rise for the past few days and they are almost on a par with last year. 30% paddy is yet to be harvested,” a senior official of Punjab Remote Sensing Centre said. 25,314 fires have been reported till November 3, against 25,380 last year. In Haryana, the number has fallen to 4,415 from 5,567 at this time last year, but it may get worse, officials said. “Around 20% of paddy is yet to harvested in Haryana and it is in districts known as hotbed of stubble burning,” Haryana Pollution Control Board member secretary S Narayanan said. He said the next 10 days would be crucial.

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