Southern Asia Seminar:The Administration of Pollution: Evidence from Crop Burning in South Asia

February 16, 2023, 5pm

Foster Hall 103

Saad Gulzar

Assistant Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University 

Air pollution in South Asia is one of the largest public health emergencies on the planet, responsible for a million deaths annually. A third of the pollution is caused by crop-residue burning (CRB). While solutions have been proposed to reduce CRB, implementing any of them at scale requires government intervention. Here we examine how administrators’ incentives shape the effective management of pollution in India and Pakistan. We causally identify variation in administrators’ incentives to manage CRB by leveraging a decade of wind, fire, and health data from satellites and DHS surveys spanning over 17 million grid cells. Results show that CRB decreases when smoke pollutes the home district of the administrator, and increases when the externality is borne by neighboring jurisdictions, with substantial impacts on child mortality. These strategic patterns are five times larger on the India-Pakistan border, where inter-jurisdictional cooperation is difficult. Our results indicate that administrators’ accountability to their own constituents and lack of accountability to others citizens impact polluting behavior.