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India: Why Punjab farms continue to burn — and choke Delhi

On the outskirts of Patiala, much of a five-acre patch is about to go up in smoke. Within minutes, Karnail Singh’s golden field is blanketed in fumes that release trace gases and particulate matter. In village after village of Punjab, the scene is repeated as farmers set their fields on fire, the quickest way to get rid of paddy stubble before wheat can be sown.

Fires raging across Punjab and Haryana have left their neighbour — Delhi — gasping and wheezing. On Friday, the national capital’s pollution levels had increased by around 75 points, taking overall air quality index to 484, categorised as “severe plus” or “emergency”.

While industries and vehicular emissions are major contributors to pollution, farm fires in winters are a huge factor. Scientists from the ministry of earth sciences’ air quality monitor, Safar, found that Delhi’s pollution worsened by 35% on Wednesday, the season’s highest, due to stubble burning.

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