Data compiled by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) reveals that farm fires have appeared on NASA’s satellite imagery of northern India’s plains. Between September 15 and 18, Punjab recorded six fires, while Haryana recorded one fire on September 15 and another on September 16. Uttar Pradesh also reported two fires on September 16.
In comparison to previous years, the number of fires recorded during this period has decreased. Last year, Punjab had recorded 22 fires, while the count was 11 in 2021. Haryana had only one farm fire in all of September last year, whereas this year it has recorded two fires. Uttar Pradesh had its first farm fire count on September 30 last year, but this year two fires were reported on September 16.
According to VK Sehgal, a professor and principal scientist at IARI, a clearer trend will emerge from October when the monsoon has withdrawn and harvesting begins. He stated that September usually sees isolated fires primarily in Amritsar or Tarn Taran in Punjab due to different harvesting cycles for potato and paddy.
The occurrence of farm fires in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh every year contributes to a public health crisis in Delhi, causing smog to form over northern India. Typically, stubble burning starts affecting Delhi’s air quality in October when the wind direction becomes northwesterly following the withdrawal of the southwest monsoon. This year, abnormal monsoon patterns have impacted sowing, and the trend of above-normal rainfall in July may delay residue burning until October.
Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of research and advocacy at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), emphasizes that September is the ideal time for state governments to address the issue and intervene. Early data should be used to deploy machines for residue collection and ensure ties with farmers where machines cannot be distributed.
Overall, the decrease in fires during this period compared to previous years is encouraging, but efforts are still required to control fires and prevent their negative impact on air quality and public health.