The worst offenders among the districts contributing to the smog are Amritsar, with 1,158 fire counts between September 22 and October 12, compared with 345 a year ago; Tarn Taran, with 750 counts this year, up from 167 in 2019; and Patiala, with 266 counts versus 85, as per the data.
IIT Delhi has been tracking fire counts through satellite reading. According to experts, the worsening air in and around Delhi is particularly harmful for those suffering from respiratory ailments and could make them more vulnerable to the virus attack.
“The number of (fire) events this year is much higher than in the last few years. The reason for the early surge in burning needs to be understood. Also, whatever measures are adopted are not working at the ground level,” said Prof. Sagnik Dey, coordinator of the Centre of Excellence for Research on Clean Air at IIT Delhi.
In the past one week, Medanta multi-super speciality hospital in Gurgaon has seen a rise in patients who were discharged and had recovered from Covid-19 coming back complaining of respiratory problems. Among other things, bad air quality could also be contributing to patients who have recently recovered from Covid infection and are now facing complications like trouble in breathing, said Dr Naresh Trehan, chairman, Medanta.
“Year after year, the problem of smog due to crop burning has not been resolved. This is cruel for those suffering from respiratory ailments, young children and old with weak lungs, especially in the year of pandemic when all are fighting the virus,” said Trehan.
In most districts in Punjab, fire counts have more than doubled this year – Gurdaspur (185, up from 22 last year), Hoshiarpur (17, up from 6), Jalandhar (46 vs 21), Rupnagar (17 vs nil), Ludhiana (97 vs 8), Fatehgarh Sahib (50 vs 5) and Ferozepur (136 vs 19).
In Haryana, on the other hand, fire counts have fallen this year in several districts. Gurugram, Mahendragarh, Nuh and Charkhi Dadri did not report any incidents of crop burning till October 12. Kaithal saw a dip in fire count to 111 from 158 last year, Karnal (166 vs 268), Panipat (10 vs 31) and Panchkula recorded seven incidents, down from nine last year.
Some districts in Haryana have, however, seen an increase in fire counts – Kurukshetra (174 vs 159), Fatehabad (65 vs 33), Yamunanagar (57 vs 24), Jind (48 vs 24) and Jhajjar (6 vs 2).
“States like Punjab, Haryana and Delhi have to come together and look for a permanent solution. As every year, we face this problem which is soon forgotten when the wind lifts the smog,” said Dey.