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Hazy Response

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Politics is, of course, getting in the way of a clear approach to dealing with the air pollution crisis that has hit many parts of North India, notably the NCR. With elections around the corner in Delhi, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has mounted a rather expensive advertising campaign about all the good he has done. Unfortunately, with regard to the pollution, he still has only the odd-even scheme to offer, even though it has been established that vehicles cause only 3 percent of the problem. His attempt to project this as effective action is being challenged by the Delhi BJP. In all of this, attention is being diverted away from the larger failure to come up with an effective action plan on containing and eliminating the high levels of air pollution. The causes are many and have been identified, including burning of stubble in neighbouring states by farmers, construction activities, a spike caused in the Diwali season, etc. This requires action by several agencies under a comprehensive and long term plan. If anything, some relief has been provided by the construction of the expressways that bypass traffic from and to other states that otherwise transited through the NCR. It has also been noted that bursting of crackers has shown a declining trend because of the social campaign against it. Weather conditions also play a role, not allowing the winds to carry away the muck. Unless these aspects are addressed in a scientific manner, positive results are unlikely. There are varied uses for the stubble that is being burned. Agriculture scientists point out that it is better to plough it back into the ground as it serves not only as natural fertiliser, but also gives ‘body’ to the soil. A few NGOs have taken the initiative to acquire this byproduct and supply it to factories that produce cardboard and other similar goods. With increasing mechanisation, farmers prefer to just burn the stubble rather than labour over alternatives. This can be dealt with through community initiatives. The objective should be for it to become a money-making proposition so that farmers are incentivised to do the right thing. It is also a fact that the problem will take some years to solve. In the meanwhile, the residents of the NCR could make some lifestyle changes and plan holidays during this season to destinations like Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh! Tourism has, not unsurprisingly, shown an uptick over the past few days in these states. If the haze will not go away, go where there is no haze – an early start to the winter vacations.