If >Delhi’s crippling pollution crisis is to end, at least in the coming years, the Centre and the States concerned need to adopt a two-pronged approach: make policy changes to help > farmers stop burning crop waste and tackle problems created by urbanisation. Every measure to curb the release of pollutants is important since the weather pattern in the post-monsoon months causes smog to persist. The capital experiences the inversion effect of air pressure retarding the dispersal of the foul cloud. There has to be strong political will to implement a time-bound programme that will stop the burning of crop residues — by one estimate about 90 million tonnes is burnt on-farm — and put them to commercial use. As the eminent agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan has pointed out, farmers are not at fault for trying to remove the waste from the land, and they need help. In the northwestern States, they resort to burning straw to prepare for a wheat crop weeks after harvesting rice. The Indian Agricultural Research Institute published a guidance report four years ago on ways to use the residue, with an emphasis on converting paddy straw into livestock feed, compost, raw material for power generation, biofuel production and as substrate for mushroom farming. State support is vital for straw to be used as fodder, and farmers should be assisted with supplemental stocks of urea and molasses, green fodder and legume waste.
The air quality in Delhi and other northern cities is under severe stress also owing to factors linked to urbanisation. Smoke-generating brick kilns around the national capital need to be cleaned up through a state-guided modernisation programme, since they become active during the period when the weather is unhelpful. It is also important to pave all roads well to curb dust, and show zero tolerance to civic agencies leaving exposed mud after executing projects. A more diffused problem is the burning of waste and other materials by the poor who do not have access to cleaner forms of heating in the winter months. If that is unavoidable in the short term, it is certainly possible to clean up the transport sector. Delhi’s bus fleet should be augmented, preferably doubled, with modern high-capacity zero emission electric vehicles of the kind being introduced in Europe. Higher parking fees for private vehicles can pay for this. The capital — indeed, all Indian cities — can achieve better efficiencies if transport data are opened up to build smartphone apps giving users real-time service information. The Delhi government has responded to the crisis by shutting schools and banning waste burning. It now needs a sustained pollution control strategy to keep life normal throughout the year.