All stakeholders, including Delhi, need to act on bad air: KejriwalUpdated: Dec 07, 2019 22:44 IST
New Delhi: Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Saturday that stubble burning played a key role in pushing up pollution levels in Delhi but admitted that local factors also contributed to the problem and a lot more had to be done by all stakeholders.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader made the remark during the closing session of the 17th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit (HTLS), hours after his Punjab counterpart said his state cannot be blamed for the current bad air phase that had pushed the air quality index (AQI) to near “severe” levels.
“No matter how bad Delhi’s pollution levels are today, we admit it is because of the city’s own sources. In the last five years, there has been some improvement, but there is still a lot to be done. Vehicular pollution, industrial pollution and the problem of dust are some local factors,” Kejriwal said when asked about the current deterioration in air quality at a time when the usual trigger – smoke from farm fires in Punjab and Haryana – is not a factor.
“You keep blaming Punjab for the pollution. This morning I couldn’t come from Chandigarh by chopper because of the pollution in Delhi, and Punjab had bright sunshine. So we are not giving any smoke from Punjab. I don’t know where the smoke is coming from... it is coming from within this area,” Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh said earlier on Saturday.
Kejriwal, during his hour-long session, talked about the AAP government’s one-of-a-kind ‘source apportionment’ project on pollution for which it has collaborated with Washington University. He said that at present, nobody knows the exact source of Delhi’s pollution on a real-time basis.
“Today, as a chief minister, I am unable to know the exact sources of pollution on a daily or monthly basis. For instance, if I could know that today the main cause of pollution in Delhi is industries, then I can shut them down. If it is because of vehicles, then I can roll out the odd-even curbs. But, no such data is available. But from April, we are hoping to get such data,” he said.
While stressing that all stakeholders, including the governments of neighbouring states, needed to make concerted efforts against pollution, which is a year-long activity, Kejriwal remarked that the people in Delhi had supported the government’s strict measures such as odd-even.
“Odd-even was a strict measure. Even my party workers said that wherever such a scheme was implemented in the world, it turned out to be politically suicidal. But I went ahead with it and people participated enthusiastically,” the Delhi CM said.
Training guns on political rivals who have often accused the AAP government in Delhi of indulging in politics of “freebies” ahead of assembly elections, Kejriwal said his government had only worked towards giving people what they deserved when they paid taxes and that there was nothing wrong in that.
Kejriwal said, “India does not need 50 years to become a developed nation. If one has the right intent, that can happen in 10 years.”
With state elections approaching, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress have intensified their criticism against AAP for a series of sops such as waiver of power bills and water bill arrears, and for making bus rides free for women.
“We set aside a budget of ₹150 crore for the first year of the bus ride scheme and people started asking us where did we get the money from. I haven’t bought myself a helicopter, unlike a CM in Gujarat who bought a helicopter for ₹190 crore. That answers the question. That’s where we get the money to help fund schemes like free bus rides for women,” said Kejriwal, who is also the national convener of AAP.
In November, the BJP government in Gujarat reportedly procured a 12-seater twin-engine Bombardier Challenger 650 aircraft worth ₹191 crore for chief minister Vijay Rupani and other dignitaries. When they came under criticism, the state government defended the move citing security issues.
“I fail to understand why people accuse us of engaging in politics of freebies. After we came to power, we reduced taxes on several goods but we also increased budget spending. We ended corruption and contributed to savings for households by offering waivers in power and water bills. What is wrong in that?” the chief minister said.
He pointed out how two factors – reducing rate of indirect taxes on several goods and offering quality education and healthcare to the residents of the city –resulted in higher tax compliance. The additional revenue, he said, helped the government double its budget spending from ₹30,000 crore in 2015 to ₹60,000 crore in 2019.
Kejriwal elaborated how his government – with its full waiver on power bills for households that consume unto 200 units per month, water bills for up to 20,000 litres each month, quality education in government schools and putting cap on fees of private schools – helped each of Delhi’s 50 lakh households save ₹5,000 a month.
“These savings collectively contribute to disposable incomes of the households to the tune of at least Rs 30,000 crore at a time when the economy in the country is witnessing a slump in market demand. Without policies, in Delhi we are generating a market demand worth Rs 30,000 crore,” Kejriwal said.
Responding to a question on instances of his tussle with the Centre, Kejriwal said that his government’s “pressure tactics” are often misunderstood as confrontational politics.
ON HIS BOND WITH THE DEPUTY CM
Asked why frictions between CMs and their deputies, which are often visible in other states, do not apply in the equation between Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia, he said, “It is because we have no personal ambitions. Five-seven years back no one used to know Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia. We are small people. Neither he (Sisodia) nor I have to earn anything for our personal gains. Had there been anything personal then you would hear about fights over portfolios or other issues, but it is not so,” he said.
He admitted that there were occasions when he disagreed with Sisodia. “Yes we disagree a lot on several issues and one should always disagree.”
When asked who wins in such disagreements, he said on witty note that “the boss is always right”.
Kejriwal said the only thing that mattered to them was that they got a chance to serve people. “The public gave us lots of love and support and believed in us. We are lucky to have gotten a chance to serve them,” he said.