Air pollution makes NCR politics toxic
Subhasish Mitra (Wide Angle)
The air pollution prevailing over the National Capital Region (NCR) has made the political atmosphere highly toxic.
Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena has slammed the AAP governments in Delhi and neighbouring Punjab over the pollution in the national capital where people are gasping for breath due to alarming levels of impurity in air.
Saxena has alleged that Punjab is playing "truant" on the issue of stubble burning, while Delhi is involved in "over-hyped events" like the odd-even road-rationing scheme.
This has set the stage for a fresh confrontation between the LG's office and the Aam Aadmi Party dispensation in Delhi.
Saxena has asserted that blaming others for the pollution problem will not help and the solution lies within the city itself.
The AAP, however, said the Delhi government has taken a slew of measures over the past several years, which has led to a significant improvement in the air quality, as was appreciated in the Economic Survey 2022-23 tabled in Parliament.
The party said it has taken several measures even in Punjab and sought to throw the ball in the Centre's court by saying that if the government of India provides a subsidy, many more things can be done to curb farm fires.
The week after Diwali has seen the air quality of Delhi fluctuating between "very poor" and "severe" categories because of unfavourable meteorological conditions hindering the dispersion of pollutants.
This prompted the LG to highlight that the problem can be mitigated by reducing the "dust that our unrepaired roads, unpaved pavements and construction sites cause" and curbing vehicular emissions. He said Delhi can do little to stop crop-residue smoke from other states and added that "blaming others should not be an alibi for gross inaction over the years".
At the same time, Saxena didn't mince words in accusing the Punjab government of "playing truant". "We can do little to stop crop residue smoke from other states, apart from pleading with them. Despite states, especially Punjab, playing truant, we are but petitioners for mercy. AQI yet hovers around 400, making the capital gasp," he said in a post on X.
Stressing that firecrackers add to the menace, the LG said the most affected in this "gas chamber" are those who commute on roads to earn their daily bread.
"The poor and the hapless living in slums and unauthorised colonies whose lungs are frying because they can't afford to sit at home and buy air purifiers. The real solution to pollution in Delhi lies in Delhi itself. We can mitigate the choking smog by reducing the dust that our unrepaired roads, unpaved pavements and construction sites cause. We can employ effective means to curb our vehicular emissions," he added.
Since the deadly smog in 2016, air pollution has become a recurrent issue subjected to nothing but platitude and rhetoric.
"Publicity around props like smog towers mean little and politics of propaganda that involve over hyped events like "Red Light On, Gaadi Off" and "Odd- Even" cannot hold the life of people of Delhi to ransom," Saxena said, claiming that nothing concrete has been attempted after the "implementation of CNG" (vehicles) in Delhi and construction of a maze of flyovers.
"Delhi needs action, not mere posturing. We can achieve sustainable goals within a fixed timeline. Let's do it. Politics can wait," the LG said.
The AAP, on the other hand, said in its year-and-a-half tenure in Punjab so far, a string of ex-situ and in-situ measures have been implemented, resulting in a nearly 50 per cent decrease in farm fires. "Further reduction can be achieved if the central government accedes to the demand of subsidy, which was also observed by the Hon'ble Supreme Court in its order dated November 7 that there is no reason why the central government cannot grant this subsidy," the AAP said in a statement.
The "Red Light On, Gaadi Off" campaign and the odd-even road-rationing scheme are emergency measures that have had a significant impact in reducing vehicular pollution, it said.
"The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has also acknowledged the reduction in PM concentration levels during the period when odd-even was implemented previously...It is imperative on the governments in the NCR, more particularly Haryana, to control farm fires in the NCR and enable the industries working in the region to switch to clean fuel and provide 24/7 electricity and take similar measures like the Delhi government to protect the environment."
Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai held a review meeting with the officers concerned to ensure a strict compliance of the GRAP-IV rules. After the meeting, Rai said a six-member special task force (STF) has been formed under the leadership of the special secretary of the environment department for proper implementation and monitoring of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) rules.
Rai has directed the Delhi transport department to conduct a special drive to prevent the entry of private polluting buses into the capital.
Recent findings from a joint project by the Delhi government and IIT-Kanpur revealed that vehicular emissions accounted for about 38-40 per cent of the national capital's air pollution.
Barring a few days around Diwali, Delhi's air quality has fluctuated between the 'very poor' and 'severe' categories due to unfavourable meteorological conditions hampering the dispersion of pollutants.
Calm winds and low temperatures are allowing accumulation of pollutants and relief is unlikely over the next few days.