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AAP in no position to play blame game on Delhi pollution crisis

Aam Aadmi Party supremo Arvind Kejriwal had specifically promised to take steps to tackle the perennial problem in the run up to the 2015 Delhi Assembly election

AAP in no position to play blame game on Delhi pollution crisis
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Ashlin Mathew

Arvind Kejriwal, the Aam Aadmi Party supremo, who in the run up to the 2015 Delhi Assembly election had promised to clean the city’s air, has now taken to blaming the Centre for it while his ministers point towards Uttar Pradesh and Haryana for the toxic air in the national capital. After seven years of being in power, it’s only the usual rhetoric on pollution control that continues, while there’s no solution in sight to the problem.

This game of political ping-pong is on even as the Air Quality Index has touched the toxic levels of 700 in several parts of the city.

The AAP leaders deliberately skipped any mention of Punjab with the Delhi Chief Minister going so far to say that abusing him or the farmers in Punjab will not resolve the problem.

Kejriwal brought out the “don’t play politics on stubble burning” card because according to him, Punjab couldn’t stop the stubble-burning because the ‘Union government did not co-operate’.

He wanted the BJP-led Union government to step down if it couldn’t find a solution to Delhi’s pollution crisis.

Delhi Environment minister Gopal Rai on Tuesday, 1 November 2022, first blamed the people of Delhi for the bad air quality and then the Union government and the UP and Haryana governments for not doing enough to contain pollution.

Citizens were held responsible as they were not working from home or car pooling.

“Stubble burning in Punjab is happening as the Central government didn’t support Punjab government’s proposal to incentivise farmers to stop stubble burning. The BJP is blaming farmers for burning stubble as they are seeking revenge for the protests (against farm laws),” said Rai.

He then stressed that the ideology of the BJP favoured rising air pollution levels as the party was in support of bursting firecrackers.

According to data from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI),  at least 21,480 stubble burning instances have been reported in Punjab between September 15 and November 2 this year – a 20 per cent increase from 2021.

In October 2022, Kejriwal announced unveiled a “15-point plan to win the fight against air pollution”, which included water sprinklers, 350 anti-smog guns, 521 water sprinklers, a green app, inducting electric and CNG buses, erecting smog towers, increasing green cover and distribution of bio-composers to farmers.

This came even though there has been no review of his 10-point winter action plan, which was announced in 2021 to curb pollution. This too included a green app, green war rooms, steps to minimise vehicular traffic and a ban on firecrackers.

In 2015, the AAP’s 70-point Action Plan before the Assembly elections had included several promises, which, if they had been implemented, could have made the city a much less polluted place.

The AAP had promised a unified transport authority for all forms of transport including the metro, buses, auto rickshaws, rickshaws and e-rickshaws for a comprehensive mobility plan for the city. It has not been set up yet even after seven years.

The manifesto had promised to develop and extend the ring rail service in Delhi, which would have provided excellent connectivity through the heart of Delhi. It was to be done in collaboration with Indian Railways.

Kejriwal had promised to add at least 5,000 new buses to the city fleet by 2020 (in five years). However, in reality, the Delhi Transport Corporation has a total strength of 3,910 buses. This is including the 150 new electric buses which were added to the fleet in May this year, the first addition to the fleet in 11 years.

Delhi needs at least 11,000 buses, according to an affidavit filed by the AAP government in Delhi High Court. In 2010-11, the DTC fleet had 6,342 buses.

What Kejriwal said before 2022

From 2017 onwards, Kejriwal has been blaming all the adjoining states for turning Delhi into a gas chamber. In 2016, he imposed the now-discarded odd-even scheme of allowing vehicles of odd and even numbers on alternate days on the city's roads.

The data from Central Pollution Control Board’s National Air Quality Index showed that the scheme was a pointless exercise. All it achieved was chaos.

In 2019, Kejriwal had asserted that stubble-burning in Punjab was the reason behind Delhi’s pollution. He had also demanded a timeline for stopping the fires from the then Congress-led Punjab government.

In 2021, the AAP government installed smog towers at Delhi’s Connaught Place and Anand Vihar at a cost of Rs 20 crore each in an attempt to reduce the amount of particulate matter in the air. Though it has been touted as the quick-fix to the all-year pollution problem in the capital, there has been no data to support this claim.

Five questions AAP must answer:

1.    Other than shifting the blame to the Union government, what have the Delhi and Punjab governments done to stop crop burning?

2.    Vehicles are the biggest contributor of pollution among local sources in Delhi. What is the plan to scale up integrated public transport systems to restrain vehicle use?

3.    To improve the air quality target in Delhi, there needs to be an integrated multi-sector regional plan in all states of NCR. What has Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal done so far to get other CMs on board?

4.    Industries contributed 9.9-13.7 per cent of air pollution in the Capital. What has been done to ensure industries use the cleaner PNG fuel?

5.    What has been achieved of the 10-point winter action plan announced in 2021 to curb pollution?

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