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Homesustainability asia'Breathless and very uncomfortable': Indian farmers carry on burning crop stubble despite...

'Breathless and very uncomfortable': Indian farmers carry on burning crop stubble despite cost to health

SAMALKHA, India: Small farmer Aashish Sharma has been burning crop stubble in recent days even though he is aware of its impact on air quality nearby and in New Delhi, the world’s most polluted capital located about three hours away by road.

The air quality in Sharma’s village in Haryana state is so bad his asthmatic uncle struggles to breathe, meaning he needs a nebuliser to pump medicine directly into his lungs.

“We know stubble-burning is harmful, particularly for the health of our parents and children,” said Sharma, 22, in his village in Karnal, known for its rice and wheat cultivation.

But for him, the only alternative to burning crop residues is to join the queue to hire machines to clear his field, which would cost him about US$100 for his four-acre farm.

The average waiting time to rent a machine is about two weeks. Buying one for nearly 300,000 rupees (US$3,606) is unaffordable for the small farmers in the village, they said, highlighting the challenge authorities face in trying to improve northern India’s air every winter.

“I have been feeling breathless and very uncomfortable for the past month,” the 75-year-old said.

During the weekend, Reuters saw at least ten farm fires in Samalkha, Barota and Budhanpur villages in Karnal district late in the evening when the risk of detection is considered to be less. The district’s air quality index (AQI) has read “very poor” at over 300 for the last few days, CPCB data shows.

The figure has remained well above 400 in Delhi, with low wind speeds also helping to trap other emissions from traffic and industry.

Some Haryana residents said authorities hesitated to take tough action against farmers, who represent a sizeable share of the vote, ahead of a general election due early next year.

“No one has the political will to stop this nuisance,” said Bajinder Pal Punia, 54, adding the pollution had disrupted outdoor wrestling practice for two of his daughters.

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