Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday expressed concern over the deteriorating air quality in the national capital and cited the introduction of CNG-powered public transport by the Congress government to tackle the issue of pollution.
Speaking at the presentation of the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development, which was given to the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the Congress president also recalled the steps taken by the former prime minister to safeguard the environment.
Sunita Narain, the director-general of the CSE, accepted the award at the ceremony held in New Delhi to mark Indira Gandhi's 102 birth anniversary.
"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," Mrs Gandhi said.
"This transformation was made possible by the persuasive expertise of the CSE and the Congress government of the day," she said.
The city has been witnessing alarming levels of pollution this season with air quality dipping to the ''very severe'' category. It was during the Congress regime led by Sheila Dikhsit from 1998-2003 that cleaner fuel in public transport vehicles was introduced in the national capital.
Mrs Gandhi said that in late 1971, even while being completely engrossed in the crisis on India's eastern border with Pakistan, Indira Gandhi found time to initiate action that led to the passage of a landmark law to protect wildlife.
"In the midst of all political crises, she found time to launch various conservation programmes of which Project Tiger has become the most iconic," Mrs Gandhi, who is also the chairperson at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust, said.
Mrs Gandhi said Indira was the only foreign head of government to address the first UN Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm in June, 1972.
Her speech there still reverberates, she added.
"She was equally committed to India's culture, to its arts and crafts, to its heritage. And deep down, she was a passionate naturalist mesmerized by the wonderful natural heritage of India, dazzled by the glorious bio diversity of India and firmly determined to preserve and protect it," Mrs Gandhi said.
She noted that CSE's work on water conservation and sanitation was internationally recognised long before the current focus on these issues.
In her acceptance speech, Ms Narain said she wants to "give up" every winter when there is smog.
"But we can't. We owe it to you, the enormous love and respect that we receive from all of you, to continue. Be that dog with the bone. Persist and persevere. We have to," Ms Narain said.
The environmentalist said air pollution is a great equaliser that doesn't distinguish between the rich and the poor.