Rajat Sharma

Delhi air pollution: Kejriwal on the defensive

AKBThe national capital region continued to reel under highly toxic ‘severe’ category of air pollution for the third straight day on Saturday. The overall Air Quality Index in Delhi stood at 431 on Saturday and 447 on Friday, as a cloud of haze hung over the capital. A strong southwesterly wind is expected to bring partial relief and the air quality may improve slightly from ‘severe’ to ‘very poor’ in the next day or two.

Lung damaging 2.5 PM (particulate matter) in the air were above 270 micrograms per cubic metre on Friday, that is eight times over the safe limit of micrograms per cubic metre.

Air Quality Index recorded on Saturday morning in different parts of Delhi were: Jahangirpuri 456, IGI airport 397, ITO 411, Okhla 425, Pusa 416, Wazirpur 449, R K Puram 446 and Vivek Nagar 440. Neighbouring Noida recorded 529, Gurugram 478, Ghaziabad 361 and Faridabad recorded 400.

People are suffering from severe breathing problems, and all primary schools in Delhi have been closed till next Tuesday. On Friday, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, along with Punjab counterpart Bhagwant Mann folded their hands at a press conference and admitted their inability in preventing farm stubble fires. Both of them promised to change the situation next year.

Kejriwal said, his party AAP came to power in Punjab only six months ago and there was not enough time to curb stubble fire smoke. He however said, that it would be incorrect to blame Punjab alone for stubble fires.

He came out with a list of cities in UP, Bihar and Rajasthan where the Air Quality Index was more severe compared to Delhi. He questioned: “Paddy stubble is not being burnt in Bihar, UP and Rajasthan, then why is the air quality severe there? Why are people only speaking about Delhi’s air pollution?”

This was the same Kejriwal who had last year blamed stubble fires in Punjab as the main cause of air pollution in Delhi, but on Friday, he was speaking in a different tune. It was Kejriwal who had promised to solve stubble fire problem, if it came to power in Punjab.

On Friday, Bhagwant Mann said, he would prefer a permanent solution by asking farmers to sow other crops like mustard and millet, in place of paddy. “This will also save water consumption and ‘parali’ (stubble fire) problem will be solved”, he added.

BJP leaders hit out at Kejriwal and Mann for failing to prevent air pollution. BJP leader Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga posted a billboard showing Kejriwal and Adolf Hitler, saying, “Kejriwal is second ruler, who converted his city into a Gas Chamber. Hitler was First.”

BJP leader Sambit Patra said, the least AAP government in Punjab could have done was to lower the incidence of stubble fires, but the reverse happened. The numbers of farm fire incidents increased by 34 per cent. He also blamed Punjab government for not utilising Central funds given for tackling air pollution. He also alleged that several seeding machines sent by the Centre to Punjab were stolen.

Clearly, Kejriwal is finding no fresh excuses for failing to stop air pollution. Two years ago, on November 4, 2020, he had tweeted that “bio-decomposers used by farmers in Delhi were a success and paddy stubble was converted into fertilizers. The farmers of Delhi are happy and satisfied. Our farmers do not want to burn parali (stubble). We provided them the solution and facilities too. Other states should also stop giving lame excuses and give similar facilities to farmers.”

The situation is now reversed. AAP is now in power in Punjab, and instead of providing facilities to farmers in Punjab, Kejriwal is giving excuses by saying other states like Bihar and UP too are facing air pollution. BJP leader Sambit Patra said, “Kejriwal was describing paddy stubble as gold, but today this golden Lanka is burning, and Kejriwal is fleeing from his responsibility.”

While Kejriwal and Mann were busy giving excuses on Friday, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar called for collective efforts by both Centre and states to find a scientific solution to the problem. He said a discussion on managing paddy straw is more important than a political debate.

“The problem is serious and levelling charges and counter-allegations is not justified. The decomposer developed by IARI (Indian Agricultural Research Institute) will not only ensure that the soil is safe, but pollution will also be reduced”, Tomar said.

Tomar said, Pusa paddy decomposers were used in 26 lakh acres in UP, five lakh acres in Punjab, 3.5 lakh acres in Haryana and 10,000 acres in Delhi and these have given good results. He said, 2,07,000 machines were given to states for stubble management and all of them must be utilized to the optimum. Using Pusa decomposers developed by IARI will increase the fertility of cultivable land and reduce air pollution, Tomar said.

The overall situation in NCR is now scary. Fifty per cent of Delhi government staff have now been asked to work from home, and private offices have also been advised to do the same. Entry of trucks into the capital has been banned, and owners have been asked to take BS-3 petrol and BS-4 diesel cars off the roads. All primary classes and outdoor activities by students in schools have been suspended.

Arvind Kejriwal was silent till now on the issue of paddy stubble. Two days ago, he had held the Centre reponsible and on Friday, he alleged that air pollution was prevalent in other states too.

Kejriwal expected the air pollution issue to blow away once the stubble fires in Punjab are over and wheat sowing season starts. But he did not expect the state chief electoral officer would announced MCD elections so soon.

On Friday, when the MCD election dates were announced, Kejriwal became alert and he soon realized that the stubble burning issue would sink his party’s electoral prospects. He brought Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann to a joint press conference and admitted that they failed to stop stubble fires. Both of them thought, admitting mistake was the best way out. Will the people of Delhi accept?

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