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Farm fires continue unabated, and the state’s most polluted city

Ludhiana became the state’s most polluted city on Thursday due to the ongoing agricultural fires.

The season’s total of 444 stubble burning instances—still the lowest number to date—has increased after 36 new occurrences were recorded in the last 48 hours.

In the largest and most populous region of the state, there were 22 instances of agricultural waste burning on Wednesday, but only 14 of them were recorded on Thursday.

The industrial and economic hub of the state, Ludhiana, was named the most polluted city in Punjab even though the air quality index (AQI) changed from the “very unhealthy” category to “unhealthy” on Thursday.

On Thursday, Ludhiana had the lowest AQI reading in the whole state, measuring 158. It was still better than 226 on Wednesday, when the city’s AQI of 230 was the worst in the state, ranking it second only to Mohali.

Amritsar ranked second with an AQI of 153 on Thursday among the other nine most polluted cities, ahead of Mohali at 138, Jalandhar at 134, Ropar at 126, Khanna in Ludhiana at 103, Patiala at 100, Mandi Gobindgarh at 94, Mullanpur in Ludhiana at 79, and Bathinda at 44.

Farm fires in the Ludhiana area have suddenly increased over the last few days as the current wheat harvesting season, also known as Rabi, is ended, with a total crop of over 2,45,200 hectares now harvested.

The fact that up to 368 of the 444 stubble burning occurrences in the state’s largest and most populous district—both in terms of land and population—have been recorded in the last seven days provides an indication of the severity of the rise.

The total for this season so far is still the lowest of the previous nine years.

The fact that Ludhiana has never recorded less than 517 agricultural fire occurrences, with the maximum number reaching 1,035 during the Rabi season since 2016, demonstrated the dramatic reduction in stubble burning instances this year.

Farm fires in Ludhiana that occur during the winter months when rice is harvested, or Kharif season, have never dropped below 1,801 in 2023 and have reached a peak of 7,697 in 2016.

There were a minimum of one occurrence each in Fazilka, Ferozepur, and Pathankot, and a maximum of 24 incidents reported in Amritsar among the 23 districts in the state where a total of 529 agricultural fires were recorded on Thursday.

In addition, Barnala reported seven stubble burning cases on Thursday. On May 16, 12 farm fire incidents were recorded in various districts, including Bathinda (2), Fatehgarh Sahib (4), Faridkot (3), Gurdaspur (17), Hoshiarpur 10) Malerkotla (2), Jalandhar (9), Kapurthala (3), Mansa (3), Moga 11; Muktsar (2), Nawanshahr (7), Patiala (3), Ropar (2), Sangrur (5), and Tarn Taran.

With PM2.5 concentrations in Ludhiana air presently 13 times higher than the World Health Organization’s (WHO) yearly recommended value, the city’s AQI of 158, which was deemed “unhealthy,” has been causing respiratory and related issues for locals, particularly the elderly and young.

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