There’s a solution to Delhi’s horrendous smog pollution and it’s not the one you are thinking of. Forget about all those attempts to ban cars, or diesel etc. Instead they should be throwing peasant farmers off their land.
Like tens of thousands of farmers in India’s northern states of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, Satish, whose farm sits on the outskirts of the rural Haryana village of Gharaunda, had recently cleared his fields of old rice crop stubble to make way for wheat by setting it alight. The practice was banned when its contribution to the mounting pollution crisis in nearby Delhi and across northern India became impossible to ignore, but deprived of equally cheap and easy alternatives of preparing the fields, farmers have continued to flout the law.
As record-breaking pollution threw Delhi into a state of crisis this week, and the city was shrouded in a thick brown smog with toxins over 50 times the levels deemed healthy, crop burning – which began in earnest in late October and is due to continue for the rest of the month – was labelled as the chief culprit. According to the government environment agency, almost 50% of Delhi’s pollution was from crop burning.
So, the pollution is coming from stubble burning. Why would changing who farms that land change that?
“Burning is very common, everyone around here does it and just ignores the laws,” said Satish, who claimed only to be looking after the blackened land, though neighbouring farmers later confirmed he was the owner. “What choice do we have? For most of us this method is the only option to clear our fields. I can not afford to buy a machine and even to rent it is 10,000 rupees (£110), maybe more. To burn it is just 1,000 rupees and the next day it is done.”
Because peasants farming only a few hectares can’t afford to use the better methods:
Nearly one-thirds of farmers have land parcels smaller than 1 ha, showed a Nabard survey released on Thursday. While 37 per cent of farm households owned land parcels of smaller than 0.4 ha, another 30 per cent had holdings which fall between 0.41 and 1.0 ha. Only 13 per cent agricultural households owned landholdings bigger than 2 ha.
The survey also showed only 5.2 per cent of agricultural households in the country owned a tractor and 1.8 per cent a power tiller. Access to drip irrigation and sprinkler was limited to 1.6 per cent and 0.8 per cent families respectively.
There were wide variations among States with respect to average land size possessed by agricultural households. While the States like Nagaland (2.1 ha), Rajasthan (1.9 ha) and Haryana (1.7 ha) reported higher land sizes per household, average land parcel was around 0.5 Ha in the States like Bihar, West Bengal, Tripura, Sikkim and Jammu & Kashmir. “The land sizes are to some extent reflective of the status of cultivator households and their farming potential,” the survey said.
The solution therefore is for that 50% (or so) of India’s population which are peasant farmers to stop being so. Go and do something else and leave the land to be farmed by the 1 or 2%^ of the population that 500 and thousand hectare farms would require. With the machinery to be able to not burn the stubble.
Or, to put it more simply, the solution to Dehli’s smog pollution is economic development.