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Friday, Dec 13, 2019

Lok Sabha airs pollution woes in first Parliament debate

The debate in Lok Sabha also saw some common ground between the members – they agreed on the need for tough measures and for farmers alone to not be blamed for the crisis.

india Updated: Nov 20, 2019 01:17 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Trinamool Congress MP Kakoli Ghosh wearing a pollution mask.
Trinamool Congress MP Kakoli Ghosh wearing a pollution mask.(ANI Photo)
         

India’s parliamentarians called for urgent new steps on Tuesday to tackle air pollution, holding an unprecedented discussion that also exposed political fault-lines at a time when concerted, interstate efforts seem to be the only way out of a crisis that has defied a raft of mechanisms put in place in recent years.

The debate in Lok Sabha also saw some common ground between the members – they agreed on the need for tough measures and for farmers alone to not be blamed for the crisis – and some of the proposals included enhanced financial incentives and a new, dedicated parliamentary committee to oversee anti-pollution policies.

“When the pollution issue occurs every year in Delhi, why is it that no voice is raised from government and this House over this? Why do people need to knock the doors of the Supreme Court every year over this issue? It is a matter of grave concern,” said Congress leader Manish Tewari, who suggested a new parliamentary panel.

The debate, originally scheduled for two hours, went on for more than four, and will conclude on Wednesday when Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar presents his reply.

Biju Janata Dal’s floor leader Pinaki Misra, who mooted a debate on air pollution at the all-party meeting last week, demanded the government give more incentives to farmers to procure machines to remove paddy stubble. “Let’s not blame the poor farmers. Stubble burning can contribute to pollution, but it is not the main reason. The fact is that the government, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi, should take it (pollution) as a challenge, just like the manner in which he (Modi) launched a crusade against hygiene,” said the BJD MP from Puri, who also demanded a ban on poor-quality firecrackers with high sulphur content.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member Pravesh Verma targeted Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, accusing his administration of not doing enough to tackle the problem while spending ₹600 crore on advertisements. “Earlier the CM alone used to cough. Now the entire city and members of the House are coughing,” he said, while the Speaker asked him not to name the CM since the latter was not a member of the House.

Another BJP MP, former cricketer Gautam Gambhir, criticised the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government’s odd- even road rationing scheme and said the city needs “long term, sustainable solutions”, not “knee-jerk reactions”.

Outside the House, the AAP hit back and pointed to some BJP members missing the debate, “Once again BJP’s complete apathy towards respiratory health of the people was on full display as many of their Delhi MPs were absent from the air pollution discussion in Parliament #PhirGayabBJP,” said national spokesperson Raghav Chadha in a tweet.

AAP’s Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh questioned steps taken by the Centre to curb stubble burning in neighbouring states – one of the key sources of pollution that affects the region during this time of the year. “The Centre’s own report says that stubble burning had up to 46% contribution to Delhi’s toxic air this season. Why isn’t any BJP MP talking about that? Will making personal attacks on CM Kejriwal and his health improve Delhi’s air? The BJP doesn’t have the intention to curb pollution. Its MP Vijay Goel recently deliberately violated the odd-even road space rationing drive which was rolled out between November 4 and 15 as an emergency measure,” said Singh, who also took a shot at Gambhir who was seen last week skipping a key parliamentary meet on pollution while in Indore.

“The Union health minister advises people to have carrots, and a minister in [BJP-controlled] UP government suggests people should do havans [prayer rituals] for better air quality,” Singh added.

The back-and-forth came even as the air quality was predicted to deteriorate again, owing largely to weather conditions that are outside of human control. According to the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) 4pm bulletin, the air quality index (AQI) in Delhi on Tuesday was in the ‘poor’ category at 242. The AQI was expected to fall to “very poor” – a range above 300 – and could even surpass 400 to settle in the “severe” zone, pollution control officials warned on Monday.

At an event to confer the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development to the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Congress president Sonia Gandhi too spoke about Delhi’s pollution. “We, who live in this Capital, notorious now as the world’s most polluted city, can recall the difference in air quality when compressed natural gas was introduced in public vehicles. This transformation was made possible by the persuasive expertise of the CSE and the Congress government of the day,” she said.

Among those who spoke on the issue was Trinamool Congress’s Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, who started her speech wearing an anti-pollution mask to highlight the problem. She pointed out how out of 10 most polluted cities, nine are in India. “When we have a ‘Swachh Bharat Mission’, can’t we have a ‘Swachh Hawa Mission’? Shouldn’t we be ensured the right to breathe clean air? In Delhi, we might be staring at a situation of mass asphyxia,” said Ghosh Dastidar, a doctor by profession.

Another Congress MP from Punjab, Amar Singh, defended farmers and said, “We must understand why a farmer burns the stubble. He can’t afford the machines that everyone has been suggesting they use. It would cost him ₹5,000 to ₹10,000 per acre.” The parliamentary panel on urban development will meet on Wednesday to hold its pending meeting on pollution.