Delhi’s air pollution is an annual news event.The national capital has not experienced a clean winter in more than two decades. But the real issue is that pollution in northern India is a year-round problem. It persists throughout the year but is at its worst in winter, which is why it makes the news.
In Delhi,two significant events occurred within a 10-day period that shed light on the city’s true problems with pollution. Arvind Kejriwal, Chief Minister of Delhi and national convenor of the Aam Aadmi Party, asserted that his Government’s efforts had resulted in the cleanest Diwali celebrated in Delhi. The comparison was with the past few years. However, the situation deterioratedtoits worst state just 11 days later and the national capital’s air quality reached “severe” level. The weather is one of many factors that contribute to Delhi’s pollution. However, there are other factors, such as vehicular pollution, regional dust and stubble burning.
These two issues demonstrate the political establishment’s lack of comprehension of Delhi’s pollution. Policy-orientated solutions, not merely populist ones, are required to solve it. But the Arvind Kejriwal Government is either busy in a blame game or with populism. Under AAP’s rule, Delhi has not seen much in the way of innovative policies to combat pollution. The electric vehicle policy, which has the potential to change everything, was one of the more important plans, but aside from that, most of the policies and emergency action plans are the same for all agencies.
Mr Kejriwal used to accuse the Congress of failing to control stubble-burningwhenitwas inpower in Punjab until last year. However, after the AAP Government was elected this year, all of Mr Kejriwal’s monologues offering solutions to stubble-burning have failed miserably. The AAP Government had to admit it had no control over stubble burning. Actually, neither Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann nor Mr Kejriwal have had the time to work on pollution, being busy in the Gujarat campaign.
Like every year, pollution in Delhi forced the closure of schools, restrictions on the use of diesel vehicles, and a halt to construction projects. All of these are part of the emergency air pollution response plan.
It is inconceivable but true that Delhi has endured for more than 20 years with a pollution emergency action plan. The Environmental Pollution Prevention and Control Authority, or EPCA, was created by an order of the Supreme Court in 1998. Former IAS officer Bhure Lal, who developed GRAP (Graded Response Action Plan), was the driving force behind this strategy. The emergency action plan or the fundamentals to combat this winter’s pollution in Delhi have not changed despite the arrival of numerous agencies and several changes in government.
After AAP took charge in Delhi, Mr Kejriwal completely shifted towards populism and announced victory against pollution much earlier than he would otherwise have. Some years ago he claimed that the Government had significantly reduced pollution in the nation’s capital. However,nothing of the sort has happened.
The Aam Aadmi Party has made significant contributions to the fields of education and health care in the nation’s capital. But it has failed miserably in its attempts to combat pollution. The AAP Administration has performed poorly in modernising the city’s public transportation system over the past few years. There are numerous instances where Mr Kejriwal disregarded Delhi’s air pollution problem.
For instance, Imran Hussain, a minister, oversaw the Environment Department for a number of years. During that time he was also in charge of the Food Department. After that, Mr Kejriwal transferred the department randomly to Kailash Gehlot,Transport Minister. After a few months, Gopal Rai, another minister, took over the Environment Department. This arbitrariness shows how disorientated the AAP Government is when it comes to pollution. People anticipated that AAP would take considerable action to tackle air pollution when it won the Punjab election earlier this year. It is shameful that despite coming to power in Punjab, AAP did nothing other than ask farmers not to burn crops and create unnecessary hype about the PUSA bio-decomposer technique.
Mr Kejriwal’s real offence is that he hypes everything up before verifying its veracity. He has been claiming to have a solution to stop stubble-burning in Punjab for the past two years, but now that his party is in power in Punjab, he is apologising to everyone for unchecked stubble-burning. It would be inaccurate to claim that AAP is the only political party to have demonstrated such apathy to addressing the root of the issue. The BJP-led Central Government is also culpable. The Punjab Congress Government and the Central Governmentbothgave theirapprovalto reverse the stubble-burning ban after farmers’ protests and demands. The Bhagwant Mann Government now recognises that by supporting the massive Punjab farmers’ agitation, they gained public support; however, if they criminalise stubble-burning, they risk losing that support.
In similar vein, the BJP wants the populace to recognise that the AAP governments are failing to address the issue. The people of Delhi and neighbouring northern Indian states are the true victims of these political blame games and ploys.
The state governments, the Central Government, the courts, and the media should all acknowledge that pollution exists in Delhi and the neighbouring northern Indian states throughout the year. In a similar vein, it is past time to realise that Delhi and northern India cannot survive solely on an emergency pollution control plan. Emergency action plans will eventually be rendered obsolete. All political regimes are being prevented from taking meaningful actionto reduce air pollution as a result of this extreme focus on the emergency action plan. Political action is required to address the pollution problem, not legal action. Nothing will change unless and until state politicians recognise the significanceof this issue. Lastly, the people of the states should force the political dispensation to bring this issue into the mainstream of political discourse.
The author is a columnist and doctoral research scholar in media and politics.