The onset of autumn in Delhi leads to an increase in the air pollution levels, which has become almost a norm now. This Sunday, on November 2, the people of Delhi woke up to an extremely heavy smog with AQI remaining high for the entire day.
However, an issue of such gravity which has serious and disastrous effects on public health has ended up in some token measures and political blame game. Delhi pollution is no more an issue that can be thought of having a viable solution without strong political will. In order to stop this, the governments of Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and the central government have to come together and put some serious efforts to formulate comprehensive plans and strict implementation of those.
In this regard, major initiatives have to be undertaken by the central government as pollution in Delhi is not restricted to one state alone, and several matters like farmers’ stubble burning are also involved in it.
The ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), on Sunday released documents that alleged the Centre to have postponed three meetings on air quality between September and October. AAP has also questioned Prakash Javadekar, the Union Environment Minister, on his commitment to tackle air pollution. According to the documents released by AAP, the meeting of NCR ministers scheduled for September 12 was postponed. Other meetings scheduled on October 17 and October 19 were also postponed. On the other hand, the central government has said that the principal secretary reviewed the situation on October 24 and several meetings had taken place.
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On September 26, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal wrote to Javadekar, appealing the Centre to take necessary steps to curb stubble burning by coordinating with Punjab and Haryana—the released documents suggest.
So far, the union Environment Ministry has chosen not to comment on the allegations levelled by AAP.
Prakash Javadekar’s statement earlier last week criticised Kejriwal for politicising the issue. He said, “Instead of blaming Punjab and Haryana, leaders from all five states in the region should sit together. Instead of doing that, if one chooses to indulge in a blame game, a lot of secrets will tumble out.”
In a press conference on Sunday, senior AAP leaders Atishi Marlena and Raghav Chaddha targeted Javadekar.
“As per the affidavit filed by the Centre in the Supreme Court, it is noted that they have distributed only 63,000 machines as an alternative to stubble burning, whereas the number of farmers is around 22 lakh. Why did the Centre, in the last five months, not call any multi-state meeting? Now that the situation has reached emergency levels, why has a meeting not been called in the last five days?” said Atishi.
Chadha said, “It is unfortunate that in this severe air emergency, the Prime Minister is in Thailand, Health Minister is in Chennai and Environment Minister today morning, through his tweet, suggested that people listen to music.” Javadekar had shared the thematic composition “Swagatam”, by Veena exponent Emani Sankara Sastry, and asked people to start their day with music.
Only on Sunday, when the pollution level reached an intolerable level, the principal secretary to the prime minister, P.K. Mishra held a high-level meeting through video conferencing with the states of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. It was decided in the meeting that the Cabinet Secretary will monitor the situation with these states on a daily basis. The Chief Secretaries of these states are also directed to monitor their districts 24X7. The Centre asked the neighbouring states to reduce fire incidents and dust levels. Earlier on October 24, too, the Principal Secretary to the PM had reviewed the situations.
Meanwhile, the Delhi government has brought back the odd-even rule for vehicles. This measure, which was first adopted three years ago has some unproven claims of success in mitigating pollution. However, anything at this crucial situation is welcome. Delhi’s air pollution has a 40% contribution from vehicular emissions.
Growth in number of vehicles continues unchecked and they contribute most to pollution. This also means expanding public transport and reducing fares to encourage people to use it rather than private vehicles.
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Mere monitoring the situation by Principal Secretary and putting some fines on farmers for stubble burning will not be able to bring a longstanding solution to this grave problem that Delhi and many North Indian states have been facing for years now. Reduction of stubble burning can only be realised when proper measures to ensure are adopted. But, for that farmers should not be placed at the receiving end. The heavy machination used in harvesting leaves stubble of about a foot which need to be immediately removed from the ground to prepare it for the next round of wheat cultivation. Government has to provide proper subsidies on machines to completely remove the stubble so that farmers do not resort to burning anymore.