Up in Smoke: The Devastating Impact of Stubble Burning in Northern India

Stubble burning has become a major issue in Northern India, particularly in the states of Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, during the months of October and November every year. Farmers resort to burning the crop residue left behind after harvesting paddy and wheat, as it is the quickest and cheapest way to clear the land for the next crop. However, this practice has a devastating impact on the various facet of life. Let's take a look at the impact of stubble burning:

Air pollution

Stubble burning releases a significant amount of smoke, carbon monoxide, and other harmful pollutants into the air. According to the Centre for Science and Environment, during the peak burning period in 2020, the Air Quality Index (AQI) in Delhi reached an all-time high of 999, which is 10 times the safe limit. This led to a significant increase in respiratory problems and other health issues. Stubble burning is one of the major contributors to air pollution in Delhi and surrounding areas.

Soil health

Stubble burning destroys the organic matter in the soil, leading to reduced soil fertility and productivity. According to a study conducted by the Punjab Agriculture University, stubble burning can lead to a loss of up to 3.5% of soil organic carbon.  According to an estimate, more than 500 million tonnes of crop residue (parali) is produced annually in the country most of which is burned on the farm in the form of stubble burning, that is 500 million tonnes of organic matter which could have been added to the soil, increasing its fertility, but is burned and contribute towards air pollution. This affects the yield of crops in the long run.

Water quality

Stubble burning leads to the release of harmful chemicals and particulate matter into the air, which can settle on water bodies and contaminate them. According to a report by the National Green Tribunal, in 2019, the Yamuna river, which flows through Delhi, was found to have a dissolved oxygen level of just 2.1 mg/L, which is well below the safe limit of 4-5 mg/L. This can lead to health problems in humans and animals, and affect aquatic life.

Climate change

Stubble burning contributes to climate change by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, primarily carbon dioxide and methane. According to a study by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, stubble burning contributes to about 44% of Delhi's air pollution during the winter months. This, in turn, contributes to global warming and climate change, which has far-reaching consequences for the environment and human health.


Stubble burning during the winter season causes a major health scare in the state of Punjab, Haryana, and Delhi. After Diwali, the firecracker's fumes coupled with the smoke from stubble burning take the AQI of surrounding air beyond the maximum limit of 500. The hospitals see at least three times increase in the number of patients, especially children, thronging the OPDs complaining of headaches, coughing, chest congestion, nasal congestion, and eye irritation. A study published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology in 2020 found that exposure to PM2.5 pollution from stubble burning in northern India could reduce life expectancy by up to six years.

Economic impact

The economic impact of stubble burning is significant. The reduction in soil fertility and productivity leads to reduced crop yields, which affects farmers' income. According to a report by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, the total economic cost of crop residue burning in Northern India in 2019 was estimated to be around US$30 billion. The resulting health problems and accidents also lead to additional healthcare costs and economic losses.

Overall, stubble burning has a significant impact on various aspects of life, including air and water quality, soil health, climate change, and the economy. It is essential to work towards a sustainable and environmentally friendly agricultural system to address the issue of stubble burning and ensure a healthier and more prosperous future for all.

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