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India’s top court ordered authorities in states surrounding the capital to stop farmers from burning crop residue, as the air quality in New Delhi has continued to plummet in the past week to hazardous levels, Reuters reported Tuesday.
The Supreme Court’s ruling comes at the time of year ahead of winter when air quality normally drops in the capital, when winds trap pollutants from various sources, such as vehicles, and industrial and agricultural waste.
To fight pollution, New Delhi stopped local construction, closed primary schools until Nov. 10 and is planning to impose restrictions on the use of vehicles next week.
But farmers in the adjacent states, including Punjab and Haryana, have been burning crop stubble left behind following a rice harvest in late October and early November. For the farmers, the burning is necessary in order to clear their lands before planting wheat crops.
Burning crop residue has been practiced for years, but the resulting smoke has accounted for 30 to 40 percent of New Delhi’s October-November pollution.
On Tuesday, the city’s air quality index stood at 306, a level considered ‘hazardous’ by Swiss group IQAir.
In its ruling Tuesday, the court ordered state officials and local police to ensure that farmers stop burning the crops. It also recommended a gradual switch-over from rice crops to less water-intensive crops.
However, the court has issued similar orders in past years with mixed results. State authorities noted that they are unable to completely halt the burning despite issuing fines. Some lamented that farmers are also hostile toward officials.
Both federal and state governments have been providing subsidies for improved harvesting equipment and stubble decomposers. These initiatives aim to assist farmers while raising awareness about hazards arising from the practice, which has reduced over the years but is still a major issue.