Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday expressed concern over the deteriorating air quality in the national capital and cited the introduction of CNG-powered public transport by the Congress government to tackle the issue.
Speaking at the presentation of the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development at Jawahar Bhavan in New Delhi, which was given to the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the Congress President also recalled the steps taken by the former prime minister Indira Gandhi to safeguard the environment.
"We, who live in this capital, notorious now as the world's most polluted city, can recall the difference in air quality when compressed natural gas was introduced in public vehicles," Gandhi said.
"This transformation was made possible by the persuasive expertise of the CSE and the Congress government of the day," she said.
CSE director general Sunita Narain received the prize from former vice president Hamid Ansari. Former president of India Pranab Mukherjee and former prime minister Manmohan Singh were also present at the event.
The international jury for the award was headed by former President Pranab Mukerjee. This prize, which is conferred by the Indira Gandhi Trust, recognises people who work on issues Indira Gandhi espoused.
Sonia Gandhi is the chairperson of the Trust.
“She was a person of diverse interests. Her contributions to nation-building are well documented. In late 1971, even while being completely engrossed in the grave crisis on India’s eastern border with Pakistan, she found time to initiate action that would lead to the passage of the landmark law to protect our wildlife. In the midst of all political crises, she found time to launch various conservation programmes of which Project Tiger has become the most iconic,” the Congress president said.
Congratulating CSE, Gandhi said the organisation’s pollution monitoring laboratory is the only one run by a civil society organisation in the country and it has worked to establish the principle of equity in the approach to climate change discussions.
Conferring the award to Narain, Ansari said CSE’s focus is on communicating the message that development must be both sustainable and equitable.
Accepting the award, Narain said, “When every breath we take is toxic, we know that we have a crisis that needs to be fixed. We know also that climate change is not an empty threat anymore. It is real. It is happening.”
Narain pointed out that all the Environment Acts (Water Act, Air Act) that the country has now is because of Indira Gandhi. “Environment was not a buzz word for her,” she stressed.
“Air pollution we know is the greater equaliser – the rich and the poor breathe the same air. Unlike water pollution, where the rich can move to bottled water, here there is no solution. The air purifier is not the answer. If we want our right to clean air, we have to clean the air outside,” pointed out Narain.
Underscoring immigration due to climate change, Narain said that no one knows how many people are there in the cities as the census is always 10 years out of date. But she affirmed that there is a massive movement of people, which will make city governance difficult.
“More more importantly, this tipping of the scales of migration, means that politics of immigration will and has become even more nasty, angrier and is feeding insecurity, not just of the poor but also of the already rich,” said Narain.