Crops or crackers? Who is to blame for Delhi's smog?

Aditya Kondalamahanty
November 19, 2020

Creating a sustainable alternative for burning 35 million tons of stubble and selling and buying of crackers completely can greatly reduce “peak” AQI levels in Delhi.

Every year come Diwali season, Delhi's annual smog problem becomes anything that everyone can talk about. And rightly so. Air pollution in Delhi results in approximately 80 deaths per day and this time around, the visible smog is adding to trepidation of a public already worn thin by the pandemic lockdowns. At Blue Sky our maps are showing off-the-charts pollution levels across North India and we thought perhaps it was a good time to understand why air pollution casts a grim shadow on Diwali festivities and how we can solve this problem.

AQI (Air Quality Index) during Diwali nights has reached 999 (highest possible measure on the AQI scale) with the safe number being 60. In 2020, the Delhi Government imposed a complete ban on sale and bursting of all type of crackers.)

However, as the adjacent state of Haryana has allowed bursting of crackers for two hours on Diwali, the effect of the ban is likely to be minimal. Policies have so far focused on the lowest hanging fruit while ignoring the elephant in the room – STUBBLE BURNING!

Every year farmers from Punjab and Haryana burn approximately 25-35 million tons of stubble left over after harvesting.This contributes to over 44%12 of PM2.5 levels found in Delhi.

A study estimates that crop residue burning alone released 149.24 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), over 9 million tonnes of carbon monoxide (CO), 0.25 million tonnes of oxides of sulphur (SOX), 1.28 million tonnes of particulate matter and 0.07 million tonnes of black carbon.‍

Creating a sustainable alternative for burning 35 million tons of stubble and selling and buying of crackers completely can greatly reduce “peak” AQI levels in Delhi.This will greatly reduce the number of deaths per year and improve the economicactivity throughout the year.

If you want to get an indepth-view of how the problem of Delhi's smog can be addressed, you can check out our white paper on the matter here.