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Here we go again. On Saturday, foul air in Punjab, Haryana, and adjoining states in a vast patch around Delhi triggered “severe" stage curbs for the national capital region under India’s Graded Response Action Plan. Dust-raising and smoke-spewing activities must halt, even as hands are wrung over India’s inability to solve a big problem that’s been a calendar event for over a decade. Much smoke arises from farm stubble fires to clear paddy residue and sow wheat on a switchover schedule that climate change may have shortened, but solutions must focus on fixing local farming incentives. A policy of public procurement has caused rice over-production, but reform efforts have got nowhere. As for farmers, despite warnings of soil degradation and cheap access to machines that plough the straw back into farms (with additives that help turn it into compost), too many see scorched farms as the cheapest and easiest way to switch crops. Large-scale straw purchases for other uses would be costly, but India should consider coughing up the money needed to redirect incentives and put an end to crop-residue burning. A cost-benefit analysis must account for the health burden of badly polluted air.

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