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Delhi Schools Closed 4 Days After Reopening: What Ails Delhi's Fight Against Pollution?

As far as Delhi government is concerned, in the NCR, Delhi government is the lone government which is working on long term solutions, said Delhi environment minister. (Image by Shutterstock / Representational)

As far as Delhi government is concerned, in the NCR, Delhi government is the lone government which is working on long term solutions, said Delhi environment minister. (Image by Shutterstock / Representational)

Only 30 per cent of Delhi's pollution is due to local sources..70 per cent of the pollution from outside Delhi still remains unaddressed and that has an impact, said Gopal Rai, Delhi Environment Minister

Schools and educational institutions in Delhi, which had reopened on November 29 shut down indefinitely from December 3 onwards. Four days after reopening, schools are shut again due to a spike in pollution levels in the national capital and a stern rap from the Supreme Court. Speaking to CNN News 18, Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai said while a call was taken to reopen schools keeping in mind the improvement in levels of pollution levels, however, the same is worsening now.

The environment minister once again stressed the need for a ‘joint action plan’ to be devised by the central government, neighbouring states, and the government of Delhi as the only solution to Delhi’s chronic problem of winter pollution. The Minister claimed ‘maximum emergency measures that could be taken have been taken in Delhi’, alleging that similar action is not being taken in the neighbouring states.

CNN News18’s Rupashree Nanda spoke to Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai. Excerpts from the interview.

CNN News18:You have taken a decision to shut down schools again, just a few days ago you had taken a decision to reopen schools. Why did you have to take such a decision? Were the observations by the Supreme Court also a factor?

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Gopal Rai, Delhi Environment Minister: We are taking a lot of measures within Delhi (to combat pollution), we are also closely monitoring the situation. There was a possibility and there were indications that the pollution levels within Delhi would improve. For a long time, children were not able to go to school. So, a call was taken to reopen the schools keeping in mind the improvement in the levels of pollution. Delhi’s pollution levels, however, are worsening now. The change in weather condition is a factor. Therefore, the government today took a decision to shut down schools, colleges, educational institutions till further orders.

CNN News18: Once again, the Supreme Court had uncharitable things to say about your government. The Supreme Court feels that the government, respective governments are not doing anything.

Gopal Rai, Delhi Environment Minister: Every stakeholder has to put in the work. The problem of pollution is the problem of the entire NCR region. More work needs to be done. When it comes to the Delhi government, you look at long term measures. In Delhi there were more than 1500 polluting industries which have been taken care of, however, the same were not taken care of in the NCR. Similarly, within Delhi, CNG buses are running, however, NCR buses run on diesel. In Delhi, we are not moving towards electric buses and hopefully, in the next few months, these would start arriving. In Delhi, we are promoting electric vehicles so that people opt for them when it comes to their private vehicles. We have ensured 24×7 electricity supply so that the pollution emanating from generators is arrested. In Delhi, we have taken steps to greening Delhi and increase the coverage of the green belt.

CNN News18: In spite of all these steps, you were forced to shut down schools again. What is the reason that pollution levels have shot up again?

Gopal Rai, Delhi Environment Minister: There are many factors - the geographical factor, the weather also plays an important role. Now, in Delhi, diesel vehicles are not allowed to ply, vehicles running on diesel from across the borders, trucks etc have been disallowed entry into the capital. In Delhi, construction and demolition activities are prohibited. Maximum emergency measures that could be taken have been taken in Delhi. It is a matter of further study that in spite of taking strict action on the sources of pollution, to what extent the weather and Delhi’s geographical conditions are responsible for the spikes. I have said, again and again, multiple studies in Delhi have been done, whether by TERI or CSE - according to these reports, only 30 per cent of Delhi’s pollution is due to local sources. Now, look at Noida, Gaziabad - schools are open. So, 70 per cent of the pollution from outside Delhi still remains unaddressed and that has an impact. Therefore, I have said that there is a need for a joint action plan and there is also a need for deep study for better understanding. The random talk will not do. We need more scientific work.

As far as the Delhi government is concerned, in the NCR, the Delhi government is the lone government which is working on long term solutions and under the winter action plan, we have been working relentlessly for the past one and half months. Whatever weaknesses are there will be plugged. There is a need for a joint action plan. Only a joint action plan (among the centre, Delhi and neighbouring states) can be the solution.

CNN News18: There has been a dip in the number of farm fires. In spite of that why has the level of pollution spiked?

Gopal Rai, Delhi Environment Minister: According to the experts, the change in the weather condition is playing a role. Secondly, while we have taken action in Delhi, stopped the entry of non-essential diesel vehicles, these continue to ply in the NCR. That also has an impact. Factors which cause pollution levels to spike in Delhi are local factors within Delhi, sources of pollution outside Delhi and NCR. Only after a deep scientific study and analysis can we arrive at a solution.

CNN News18: What is the outlook? When are we going to see an improvement? What are the experts saying?

Gopal Rai, Delhi Environment Minister: Experts are saying that there are chances of improvement but it all depends on the weather conditions, the direction of the wind. That will be an important factor.

CNN News 18: SC has also commented on the government’s ‘Red Light On, Gaadi Off’ campaign- about the young people who stand there through the day and are exposed to pollution.

Gopal Rai, Delhi Environment Minister: Now, all those who are are manning the crossroads have been asked to wear masks mandatorily. If there are any lapses, action will be taken

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first published:December 02, 2021, 18:59 IST