The election to the 70-member Delhi assembly is round the corner and the three main parties — the BJP, the Congress and AAP — are pulling out all the stops to woo voters.
The last few weeks have been interesting yet chaotic: Defections, surprising choice of candidates by parties, trading of charges between candidates and a slew of promises ranging from free water to regularisation of illegal colonies. While the Congress and AAP have released their manifestos, the BJP is yet to release its, though the latter has cleverly said that it will not release a manifesto but a ‘vision document’. Such delays in releasing manifestos only defeat the purpose of the exercise: The people have been left with little time for a debate on the merits or demerits of the promises that political parties make.
In the din many important issues have been overlooked, and one of the most important among them is the issue of air pollution in Delhi. In fact, none of the three parties spoke extensively on it or came up with solutions to improve the air quality. A study released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2014 had found New Delhi to have the dirtiest air among the 1,600 cities it surveyed, with an annual average of 153 micrograms of small particulates, known as PM2.5, per cubic metre. The issue again came up for discussion just before US President Barack Obama’s visit when a study conducted by Greenpeace India at six locations, including Raj Ghat and Hyderabad House, which Mr Obama visited, revealed that the air quality was ‘unhealthy and hazardous’. It also said that Delhi residents had been breathing extremely poor air this winter with PM2.5 averages peaking at 320 micrograms/cubic metre, which is six times the Indian safety limits and 14 times that of the WHO’s. A report in Washington Post said that the US embassy ordered 1,800 air purifiers though it is not clear whether any of those air filters made it into Mr Obama’s bullet-proof enclosure during the Republic Day Parade. Could anything have been more embarrassing than this? The Congress mentions air pollution in its manifesto and promises to bring it down, but does not give any concrete proposals. AAP’s manifesto is mum on the issue. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Sonia Gandhi hit the campaign trail on Sunday but neither spoke on this important issue.
The effects of pollution on health do not need reiteration. Yet what is appalling is the lack of importance that is being given to it by the parties in this election. The key reason for air pollution in Delhi is the spurt in the number of vehicles and parties will need to tackle the auto lobby, which wields enormous clout, if it wants to clean the air. As things stand today, no party seems to be keen to bell the cat; hence the chances that we can breathe a little easier are negligible.