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As Toxic Air Returns to Capital, Delhi's Environment Minister Says Pollution Not a 'City-Specific Matter'

File photo of Delhi Minister  Kailash Gahlot.

File photo of Delhi Minister Kailash Gahlot.

In an interview with News18, Delhi's Environment Minister Kailash Gahlot maintained that pollution was a serious concern but issues like crop burning in the neighbouring state were beyond the AAP government's purview.

As a toxic haze one again engulfed the national capital and the air quality dipped into the ‘severe’ range, Delhi’s environment minister Kailash Gahlot said that pollution is not a city-specific matter and help is required from the Centre and other state governments.

The AQI on Tuesday recorded PM2.5 levels over 400 across several parts of Delhi. “Pollution is not a city-specific matter,'' Gahlot told New18, and further argued that Delhi needs help not just from environmental institutions, but also “from the center and other state governments.”

Gahlot maintained that pollution was a very serious concern for the AAP government and noted that issues like crop burning and the use of diesel generator sets in NCR cities of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan were “not in our purview”. He added, “But from the submission of the Center and the SAFAR data, it is clear that the spike in pollution this year happened due to stubble burning in the neighbouring states. Pollution is not a city-specific matter and we need to work on this collectively. Just the way we need help from institutions working in the environment domain, in the same way, we need help from the Center and other state governments.”

Asked if he thought that air pollution would be an election issue in the upcoming Assembly elections in the capital, he said that “every issue which is connected to the people of Delhi could be an election issue” and added, “But we do not believe in politicizing a major issue like pollution and we have always said that we are open to every suggestion. Our prime concern right now is to combat this situation and we are ready to cooperate with the Center and all other agencies on this.”

A key project, Gahlot said, that would aid in the city’s efforts to deal with air pollution was the Real-Time Source Apportionment system. He said, “Delhi will become the first state in India to have this system and this system will help to determine real-time source apportionment with special reference to respirable polluting particles smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5).”

He added that the government was also working to increase the city’s green cover. “Delhi’s green cover, comprising forest cover and tree cover, increased from 297.7 sq km or 20.08 per cent in 2015 to 305.4 sq km or 20.22 per cent in 2017” and added that the capital had become the first state in India to have 95 percent of its industries switch to CNG. “Out of the total 1,542 industries in the city, at least 1,457 had switched to CNG over the last one year. The feat was achieved primarily because of Delhi government’s ban on fuels that cause pollution such as petroleum, tire oil and other types of chemicals used in industries,” he added.

Gahlot added, “We have the winter action plan in place and we are following all agenda of this plan. The marshals are keeping a watch on construction works and we are penalizing the violators. The government is taking stringent action against any kind of burning incident and taking serious note of such incidents.”

A political slugfest had ensued earlier with the BJP’s Vijay Goel blaming the Aam Admi Party (AAP) government over the deteriorating situation. Goel made his opposition known by defying the odd-even rule that came into effect from November 4. Following this, Kailash Gahlot had “reached” out to him with a bouquet of roses and sought his support towards the government's anti-pollution measure.

In the interview with News18, Gahlot emphasized on several measures the government has taken including the odd-even rule, the distribution of N95 mask to school students, the deployment of environmental marshals and the controlling of air pollution hotspots.

He added that the 5-day event, a day before Diwali, was an important step to encourage people to hold a cracker-free Diwali. “This year from the day of the Choti Diwali, the Delhi government organised 5-day long Dilli Ki Diwali to celebrate community Diwali at the Central Park of Connaught Place. The event showcased state-of-the-art laser shows and performances by renowned artists and this was a step to encourage people to hold cracker free Diwali.”

The Delhi environment minister added that he “believed that awareness campaigns should be more rigorous” — something that the government was working towards. He explained, “Formulating awareness programs and reaching out to the people is a very large part of our environment betterment program…Awareness is needed in every level and the Delhi government is doing that through TV, Radio and Print advertisements. At the ground level also we are organizing various awareness campaigns..”

He said, “People of Delhi are very co-operative and it was evident by the huge participation of people in the Dilli Ki Diwali event and a huge decline in bursting of crackers in the city. Whatever achievements we made we have done that through raising the awareness and we will continue to do that.”


first published:November 12, 2019, 09:04 IST