New Delhi: Rising air pollution found mention in the 2018-19 Union Budget speech and was termed a “cause of concern”, as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday announced support to tackle the menace in the National Capital Region (NCR).
In a brief reference to air pollution — one of the worst crisis faced by the national capital and region around it in 2017 — Jaitley announced a “special scheme” to manage crop residue, a major contributor to air pollution.
The Minister however did not disclose the amount to be extended to help the governments in Delhi and neighbouring states.
“Air pollution has been a cause of concern in Delhi-NCR… Special scheme will be implemented to support the governments of Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and NCT of Delhi to address it and subsidise machinery for management of crop residue,” Jaitley said while presenting the Budget.
With stubble burning, especially in Punjab and Haryana, at centre stage in 2017 November and much of December, Delhi and surrounding regions choked on “severe plus or emergency” level of air quality with environment bodies imposing emergency level restrictions on polluting activities like construction, industry and truck movement.
Schools across the National Capital Regions were also shut for a few days. Stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana is estimated to be around 35 million tonnes.
While the green court here has rapped the state and central governments for stubble burning, the farmers have demanded support saying that machinery to manage the stubble is very expensive. Following this, the Punjab government also demanded a package of Rs 2,000 crore from the Centre to incentivise its farmers with stubble management.
Punjab’s Science and Technology Department has suggested managing the remaining 15.40 million tonnes per year of paddy residue through crop diversification, straw management equipment and industrial use. But all these steps require significant investment.
The Finance minister’s reference was however only limited to NCR, even as a recent report disclosed that at least 47 million children under the age of five live in areas facing severe air pollution with dangerous effluent density.
The report that analysed the air quality as living condition of 53 per cent of the country’s population, also pointed out that the condition or air quality under which the rest 47 per cent of population resides is unknown. According to another report, there were nearly 1.1 million early deaths in India in 2015 due to air pollution. Another 2017 report stated that due to air pollution and fine pollutants, life expectancy of an average Indian is reduced by four years while for people of Delhi it is nine years.