Gone with the Crop Stubble!

21 Nov,2019

File pic of New Delhi in 2017… but things haven’t changed much since

 

By Avik Chattopadhyay

 

The National Capital Region [NCR] has just finished with its annual Festival of Smoke.

It’s quite unique in the celebration that happens – eyes become moist, throats become parched and the general feeling is simply breathless! A heady mix of road dust, generator fumes, vehicle emissions, construction dust and something called “crop stubble burning”.

 

The last one has been in the news of late. The entire NCR seems to be pointing fingers at the farmers in Haryana and Punjab for all the polluted air in their world. “The villain operates out of Patiala” seems the refrain. Okay…so what does really happen? The rice paddy crop is harvested in September-October every year. A large part of Punjab and a little part of Haryana [and UP too] grows lots of rice. The time available between the rice harvesting and the sowing of wheat is just a few weeks. Everything is incredibly rushed. After the harvesters are gone, the rest of the straw and stubble needs to be disposed of. The correct way would be to uproot the straw and mix the balance of the crop stubble with the soil. This needs lots of mechanised equipment and thousands of operators. Both of which are just not there…for reasons unknown. Hence the straw and stubble are burnt…by the hundreds of thousands of acres of land. And all the foul air travels, through the villages of Punjab and Haryana on to the National Capital. In time for the Festival of Smoke. Ably supported by the Festival of Lights.

 

This happens every year. With unerring punctuality and impact. Followed by panel debates, political blame-games, an over-active social media, hyperactive activists and interventions like “Odd-even”. Every year. The plot does not change, like most soaps on television.

 

This year was no different. The festival was conducted with its usual gusto and garrulousness. The plotters and pundits were the same as last year and the years before that. Little realising that this moment of social anxiety can actually be acted upon and gradually turned around into one of anticipation, planning, implementation and mitigation. One can actually demonstrate positive pro-action to build better bonds with the population [and electorate / consumer base]. How else are enduring and loved brands built, if not through actually walking the talk and connecting with the larger masses on a greater purpose?

 

Five key brands came a cropper in the 2019 edition of the festival. They had the opportunity but simply wasted it. In fact, they have emerged weaker than before, though none would have the candour to admit to the same.

 

AAP ka Sarkar

Epitome of total callousness. It seemed as if they were waiting for this calamity to start one more round of ‘collective crying’. They actually spent precious money on billboards that claimed that all the great work they had done in curbing pollution during Diwali was undone by the farmers of Punjab and Haryana! How insensitive can a “common man’s” government be? Instead of wasting money on thousands of billboards basically projecting the CM and merely writing letters to the neighbouring states, the government could have taken lots of ground level interventions, much in advance, within NCR as well as in Punjab and Haryana. At least in the fifth year of their term, knowing very well what the calamity is, the citizen of Delhi could have expected more empathy and maturity!

 

Ministry of Environment

Instead of feigning helplessness at the hands of the states, the ministry could have swung into positive ground action months in advance. They could have monitored the actual use of allocated budgets in purchasing the machines needed to remove the stubble. They could have created teams at ground zero to educate and ensure negligible burning by farmers. They knew that the AAP ki Sarkar would throw their hands up early on and hence grabbed the opportunity to build greater affinity through action. But they too did nothing at all but for releasing official statements expressing concern about the situation!

 

Indian agriculture industry

Corporate India has to understand that if it expects the common man to see it in better light, it has to do better things than just obsess with sales and profits. Being the closest to the problem, the leading tractor makers, seed suppliers and fertilizer companies could have taken up the task of supplying equipment and operators for a start. They could have created the forward linkages of using the straw for end products like construction bricks, biogas and ethanol. Why would I sit calm when my customer and key stakeholder is left helpless with no option to set the fields on fire? Why can I not come together for a greater cause?

 

BCCI

They actually played a T20 game in the haze in Delhi! Preposterous!! In fact, when some people raised the question of whether the game should be moved to a ‘cleaner’ city, the BCCI did not budge. They did not only put the health of 22 players at risk but also that of the thousands of spectators present. Being rich and powerful does not give you the licence to play with the lives of the common man and woman. BCCI could have actually championed the cause of clean air by not holding the match in Delhi. The revenues lost would have paled before the respect earned from the cricket-crazy nation!

 

Prayas

One typically expects the NGOs and activists to maintain the right optics and narratives on such situations. But a leading NGO called Prayas actually went ahead and organised a mini marathon for children, without masks! The flak they received was totally justified. Look at the brighter side… a large part of the NCR knows of them now!

 

When times are good the general population is in its comfort bubble and true leadership, resilience and maturity is not tested in people. Moments of reversals and calamity throw up true leaders. This Festival of Smoke just about stubbed out five potential ones!

 

Avik Chattopadhyay is a senior marketing and brand strategist based in Gurugram (okay, Gurgaon!). He writes fortnightly on MxMIndia. His views here are personal

 

 

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