New Delhi: In a discussion on the air pollution crisis, particularly in national capital Delhi, the MPs in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday appeared to agree on two points — first, everyone needs to rise above party politics, and second, that farmers should not be blamed for stubble burning.
However, despite the lawmakers talking about uniting and rising above party differences to tackle the issue, political rivals continued to take pot shots at each other.
Despite the severity of the crisis in most parts of northern India, only 115 of the total 534 MPs attended the session. Half of the Delhi MPs, a majority of Cabinet and state ministers, and almost all prominent leaders from the Opposition benches skipped the important discussion, which was initiated by Congress MP Manish Tewari.
Most of the participating members said vehicles, dust, construction and industries and power plants are also responsible for poor air quality and farmers of neighbouring states of Delhi should not be blamed alone.
They demanded that the Centre as well as the states take tough measures to deal with the menace as air pollution was not only impacting Delhi but also various other cities of the country.
Small farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh should not be vilified for stubble burning as it is not a major cause of pollution in Delhi-NCR region, members of the BJP, Congress and Biju Janata Dal claimed.
While three Delhi BJP MPs used the opportunity to target the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led government over its alleged inability to curb air pollution, former Union minister and Shiv Sena leader Arvind Sawant criticised the BJP for the felling of tress in Mumbai’s Aarey forest.
Danish Ali of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) took a jibe at BJP MP Hema Malini, without naming her, for advertising air purifiers while doing little to control pollution.
Slamming the government for the felling of trees in Aarey forests for the metro line, Sawant said the need is to look at long-term solution to tackle climate change.
"Maharashtra hadn't seen such delayed rains and floods in the last 50 or 60 years. It is true that climate change is affecting us. We need to look at long-term solutions and the consequences of decision we are taking today. Mumbai had only two lungs — Sanjay Van and Aarey forests, where 2,700 trees were felled in one night," he said.
Amroha MP Ali took a dig at Hema Malini without naming her.
"Poor farmers are being unnecessarily being dragged into this debate. They don't have a lobby. They don't have a PR machinery in media like some people who have become brand ambassadors of air purifiers. I am not talking about any man or woman from this House," he said.
Three BJP MPs who attended Tuesday's session — Pravesh Verma, Gautam Gambhir and Manoj Tiwari — cornered the Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government on its 'odd-even' road rationing scheme and his alleged inability to tackle pollution emanating from landfill sites, and over the alleged violation of Supreme Court norms by construction work from the Delhi government-sponsored construction projects.
Verma, representing West Delhi, slammed the AAP government for blaming stubble burning for pollution and ignoring major pollutants, including vehicles and dust. He claimed that Rs 600 crore was spent by the Delhi government on advertisements but little was done to curb pollution. Verma also alleged that by blaming villagers for pollution, Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal was only widening the urban-rural divide.
Cricketer-turned-East Delhi MP Gambhir, who was recently in news for skipping a crucial meeting on air pollution, slammed the Delhi government and took a veiled dig at its ‘odd-even scheme’, terming it a short-term measures.
"The biggest polluter of my constituency is the Ghazipur landfill. If one stands around 200 m away from it, one would know what hell feels like. I have been working to tackle pollution in my constituency by ordering machines worth Rs 90 crore to ensure fresh air through sprinklers and air purifiers," he told the House.
Congress Anandpur Sahib MP Manish Tewari said they need to rise above party politics as the issue of air pollution affects everyone.
Tewari demanded the constitution of a statutory committee to look at air pollution and climate change issues and in every session, adding the House should assess the work of that panel. He said it is unfortunate that in Delhi, central and state governments are here, Parliament and important departments are here, "but every year during this time, Delhi's air becomes polluted and people inhale poisonous air".
"This is not an issue of the opposition versus the ruling party. This is an issue that affects all, which forces us to rise above our party differences. Many members of our House have expressed dismay over 'activism' of our judiciary, but it must also be answered that why are people forced to knock on the doors of the Supreme Court? Why does the Supreme Court have to remind governments of their duties?" he asked.
Citing the example of Beijing, Tewari said, "Some years ago, Beijing had seen high levels of pollution."
If the air in Beijing can become clean, "do we have a lack of willpower or resource constraints? Why can't pollution in the capital and other major cities be reduced?" he asked, adding that the issue should be seen outside the prism of party politics.
"We don't support stubble burning, but small farmers are forced to burn stubble due to their small economics. If you make the small farmer a scapegoat, you won't be doing justice to them," said Tewari.
BJP MP Pinaki Mishra echoed Tewari's statements, proposing a solution to stubble burning by incentivising farmers to alter their crop cycles, also suggesting the use of stubble for bio gas.
"Stubble burning happened in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab from October 8 onward. But a significant drop in Delhi's air quality was noticed only after Diwali, which was on October 27. Stubble burning is a contributor but not a primary source of pollution. One has to subsidise alternative crops," he said.
Mishra said the situation is so serious that the time has come to "bite the bullet" and take tough measures because sustainable development is the only way out to deal with the current problem. "The government must deal with it with alacrity, single-minded dedication as blame game will help nobody," he said.
Trinamool Congress MP Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar made her point by starting her speech wearing a mask. "After Swachh Bharat Mission, we need a Swachh Hawa Mission. We are staring at the face of a national calamity. We might be staring at mass asphyxia," she said.
DMK MP T Sumathy (DMK) suggested that the Union and state governments take proper steps to deal with pollution that is a health emergency. She added it would not be fair to blame firework manufacturers or farmers alone for increasing pollution.
The discussion will continue on Thursday, with Union Minister Prakash Javadekar expected to reply in both Houses.
(With inputs from PTI)