Air pollution due to the burning of crop residue costs Punjab, Haryana and Delhi over $30 billion (around Rs 2.12 lakh crore) annually and increases the risk of acute respiratory infection three times, a study published on Monday found.

The study, conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute, was based on health data of more than 2,50,000 people residing in rural and urban areas in India. The researchers used satellite data to map fires and compare the health data in areas affected by crop residue burning with that for areas not affected.

The study said that in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, where “crop residue burning is not practised and firecracker burning during Diwali is much less prevalent”, the frequency of acute respiratory infections was low. Economic losses due to the air pollution from firecrackers in India were alone estimated at around $7 billion (Rs 49,600 crore) a year, the study said.

“Severe air pollution during winter months in northern India has led to a public health emergency,” said Suman Chakrabarti, a co-author of the study. “Crop burning will add to pollution and increase healthcare costs over time if immediate steps are not taken to reverse the situation. The negative health effects of crop burning will also lower the productivity of residents and may lead to long-term adverse impacts on the economy and health.”

Another co-author, Samuel Scott, said: “Among other factors, smoke from the burning of agricultural crop residue by farmers in Haryana and Punjab especially contributes to Delhi’s poor air, increasing the risk of acute respiratory infection three-fold for those living in districts with intense crop burning.”

The study also found that the residents of rural Haryana are the first victims of crop residue burning, but much of the discussion on the impact of crop residue burning ignores them, co-author Avinash Kishore said.

Burning the stubble of paddy crops has been one of the primary causes of air pollution in North India. The pollution leads to hazardous air quality and a blanket of smog over the National Capital Region and parts of North India from late October to the end of November.