As Air Quality Plummets Further, CMs of Delhi, Punjab and Haryana Urge Centre to Convene Urgent Meeting
While Delhi's Arvind Kejriwal and Haryana's ML Khattar wrote to Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh sent a letter to PM Narendra Modi seeking urgent intervention.
A man is seen on a skywalk on a smoggy day in New Delhi on Saturday. (Reuters)
New Delhi: Amid a blame game over the failure to check the toxic haze that has enveloped the National Capital and neighbouring areas, the governments of Delhi, Punjab and Haryana on Saturday called for urgent intervention by the Centre to develop and implement a joint plan to address the "serious" situation.
Officials of the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) on Saturday said that Delhi will not get relief until November 7-8 from the continuing air pollution that has enveloped the city in thick smog.
Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia accused Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar of postponing meetings with state environment ministers thrice, on September 12, October 17 and on October 19, saying either he has no time or does not consider treating the national capital's poor air quality a priority.
Sisodia also claimed that with the Centre making 63,000 machines to stop stubble burning available in two years, it might take 50-60 years to implement the programme and asked "what should the people of Delhi-NCR do" during this period.
Sisodia's remarks came on a day Javadekar alleged that Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was politicising the issue by asking school students to write letters to his Punjab and Haryana counterparts over pollution caused due to stubble burning and was to trying to project the other chief minister as "villains".
"We have started holding inter-state meetings of NCR ministers and officials. All stakeholders need to act together and not blame each other," he said.
Kejriwal, meanwhile, wrote to Javadekar to say that air pollution "is not a Delhi-specific issue, it is a North India issue and therefore, requires a North India solution under the chairmanship of the Union Minister”.
The air quality in Delhi on Saturday remained in the 'severe' category as the city’s overall Air Quality Index (AQI) stood at 407. This was an improvement from the previous day, which registered an AQI at over 500 across several parts, prompting the Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollutional (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) to declare a public health emergency.
Pollution will also remain in focus as India take on Bangladesh in the first of three T20Is in New Delhi on Sunday. While many have questioned the logic behind hosting the match in Delhi at a time when the city is battling the post-Diwali air pollution, the BCCI ruled out shifting the tie due to logistics issues.
The startling situation on Saturday also prompted an expression of concern from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on a two-day visit to India. “Whoever looked at pollution in Delhi yesterday would find very good arguments to replace diesel buses with electric buses,” she said, pushing for e-vehicle mobility.
Haryana and Punjab also affected
A blanket of haze also engulfed Punjab and Haryana on Saturday as several districts in the two states reported air quality index in "severe" and "very poor" categories, with farmers continuing to defy the ban on stubble burning.
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar also wrote to Javadekar requesting him to convene a meeting of chief ministers of Delhi and neighbouring states to prepare a joint strategy to address the problem of severe pollution in NCR.
Without naming anyone, Khattar also criticised the "growing tendency" on the part of some stakeholders to "play petty politics" on the issue.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi has been blaming BJP-ruled Haryana and the Congress-ruled Punjab for failing to check stubble burning, considered one of the main contributors to air pollution in the region
Khattar, in a telephonic conversation with Javadekar earlier on Saturday, requested him to convene a meeting, preferably on Sunday.
Following up his conversation with a letter, Khattar said the meeting of all chief ministers and environment ministers of the states concerned would help evolve an actionable plan and a joint strategy to address the serious situation.
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh also stressed on the need for the urgent intervention from the Centre, underscoring that his state was not oblivious to the misery of people in the national capital, "whatever many around the country might have been led to believe”.
Singh said the Centre had failed to respond to his proposal for a separate bonus amount at the rate of Rs 100 per quintal to facilitate stubble management by the farmers.
"Is it not your government's task, Mr Prime Minister, to search for that permanent solution, in consultation with all the other stakeholders, including Punjab, Delhi and Haryana?” he asked.
While admitting that stubble fires, supported by winds blowing in the wrong direction, were contributing to the toxic levels of air pollution in Delhi, Singh said that data from several independent agencies had pointed out that large-scale industrial pollution, traffic overload, excessive construction activity in Delhi were equally, if not more, to blame.
Singh said Punjab had tried to enforce the law against stubble burning to the maximum extent possible and was even penalising the farmers, but it does not deter them from resorting to burning of paddy straw to keep their pathetic margins from falling further.
Javadekar earlier said air pollution is a problem that has aggravated in the past 15 years and is now being remedied by the government led by Narendra Modi.
"I feel it is very unfortunate that the Delhi chief minister is politicising the issue of pollution and indulging in blame game instead of finding a solution. He is instigating children to send letters to Haryana and Punjab chief ministers to present them in a bad light and as villains," Javadekar said.
"The solution to air pollution is not with a 'switch on' and 'switch off' mode. It is with sustained efforts that pollution will be brought down. All the state agencies and people need to participate in this effort to combat it," he added.
Taking a dig at Kejriwal, Javadekar, who is also the minister for information and broadcasting, said instead of spending crores of rupees on advertisements, the Delhi government should focus on using the money for larger good.
"I appeal to all agencies to work together in combating air pollution and give relief to the people and not indulge in cheap politics," he said and urged people to use cycles instead of motor vehicles as much as possible and travel by public transport.
(With inputs from agencies)
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