Nasa pics show decline in stubble burning in North India, but Delhi will not breathe easier

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Nasa pics show decline in stubble burning in North India, but Delhi will not breathe easier

Nasa satellite images show a reduction in instances of stubble burning in North India compared to last year. But does that mean that New Delhi and the larger NCR area will be breathing easier this winter?

As we inch towards November and December -- months when New Delhi and its surrounding National Capital Regions gets enveloped in a wintry haze -- the question on everybody's mind in Delhi-NCR is: How bad is the pollution going to be this year?

Every winter:

  • Schools are temporarily shut down
  • People walking around with medical masks strapped on are a common sight
  • Flights are diverted out of the Indira Gandhi International Airport
  • Deadly accidents take place due to poor visibility

Some of this, obviously, is due to naturally occurring fog. But the hazardous dip in Delhi-NCR's air quality every winter has been a constant for the past decade or so.

One of the prominent reasons behind Delhi-NCR's poor air quality is stubble burning.

What is stubble burning?

  • A post-harvest practice used to clear fields of crop stubble.
  • The practice has been outlawed but due to lax implementation of the ban, stubble burning still takes place in North India
  • Farmers say in defence that they do not have any alternatives
  • State governments in agrarian states of Punjab and Haryana say that they do not get enough financial aid from the Centre to compensate the farmers

So, stubble burning continues, which means that Delhi's air quality will dip this year as well. But, how bad will it be?

Well, if satellite image trends are anything to go by, the instances of stubble burning have reduced compared to last year.

The red dots you see in the image above indicate places where stubble burning has taken place on October 14, 2018.

Now, compare that image with this historical image taken on the same day, last year, i.e. October 14, 2017.

A single-day comparison, obviously, is no comparison.

This GIF image here shows the instances of stubble burning in North India in the past fortnight -- i.e. from October 1 to October 14, 2018.


Now compare it with this GIF that shows stubble burning during the same period last year.


There is a noticeable reduction in the number of red dots you see spattered over North India.

So, does this mean that Delhi and the larger National Capital Region will breathe easier this year?

Well, no.

Why? Because, the air quality is Delhi is usually so bad that a marginal improvement in it due to a marginal drop in the instances of stubble burning is not going to make a big difference.

And also because, stubble burning isn't the sole cause of Delhi's bad air quality. Carbon emissions and the side-effects of construction activity are the other leading causes of Delhi's bad air. will be tracking stubble burning instances and Delhi-NCR's air quality on a daily basis. Check our Air Quality page for the latest on this topic.

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