New Delhi: The National Capital has been engulfed in thick smog for the last week and the health crisis has caused panic among Delhi residents, many of whom have started to wear face masks outdoors, but according to Union Environment Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan, there is no need to panic. Vardhan, in an exclusive interview with CNN-News 18, said "no death certificate has the cause of death as pollution".
"Beyond a certain level, it is certainly detrimental for anybody's health. But what I have said and I'm going to assert is that there is no cause for anybody to spread panic about the whole issue. And as of today, the data clearly shows that the Air Quality is improving over the last 24 hours or so. PM 2.5 and PM 10 levels have certainly gone down. I am hopeful that in the next few days, it will become much better than what it has been," Harsh Vardhan said.
He added, "Let me clarify that I have never said that we shouldn't be bothered. All I am saying is that there is no need to frighten people. There is only a need to educate people and tell them about the routine precautions that they have to take. And I am sure that with routine precautions, people will be able to take care of it. I am not saying someone with lung problems should not go to the hospital."
When reminded that pollution kills between 10,000 and 30,000 people in Delhi every year, Harsh Vardhan said his benchmark for an "emergency" was the Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1984. "I am talking in practical terms. You see, what happened in Bhopal when there was a gas leak and hundreds of thousands of people fell acutely sick and had to be rushed to the hospital. We call that an emergency situation where you have to panic and you have to see what you have to do. I'm not saying we shouldn’t do anything about it (Delhi smog); everyone has to respond to what he is supposed to do. But there is no need to spread panic among the people."
This is not the first time the minister's comments on the Delhi smog crisis have invited criticism. Earlier, he had said that while smog is harmful it "does not kill". Ashutosh, spokesperson and senior leader of Delhi's ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), lashed out at the Union Minister for his comments on Monday and said, "Dr. Harsh Vardhan is medical professional and Union Minister but this is not the first time he has made such comments. Earlier, he had said that this is not a reason to panic. He then said it's harmful but nobody dies of pollution. This shows that the BJP and its leaders know nothing about the environment and pollution and they don't even want to understand such things. They are running away from their responsibilities. The Prime Minister when asked about global warming says that when people grow old, they feel colder. Dr. Harsh Vardhan is not only a Union Minister, he is also a Member of Parliament from Delhi. He should be worried about this situation."
Delhi Congress, too, hit out at Vardhan. DPCC Vice President Sarmistha Mukherjee said, "This is a very insensitive comment, especially coming from a medical doctor. He, more than anyone else, should know that pollution can be a major cause of death. It is unfortunate that a doctor is turning away from such a health crisis. I think he is trying to divert attention from his government's complete lack of action. If BJP is saying it's not an emergency, they have lost touch with ground realities and have gone blind. BJP should realize that this is not about politics. This is hampering the health of even BJP leaders and workers in Delhi, like any other citizen of Delhi. So this is not an issue on which one should do politics. Both the Central Government and Delhi Government cannot be exonerated from their responsibilities."