Stop Vilifying Arvind Kejriwal For Delhi Pollution

One can very well understand the problem of pollution and Delhi turning into a gas chamber. Since it is the national capital, it cannot avoid the attention of the whole country as well of the national media. Last night, I was on a national TV channel and I objected to only the Delhi government being subjected to criticism or media trial. I have no issues if the AAP government is torn apart by the citizens and media when an  issue arises, as that is the beauty of democracy, or the price that any government and a political party has to pay if it commits a mistake, but I have an issue when only the AAP government is treated in such a manner. The truth is that today, along with Delhi, the whole of north India is suffering from this crisis of pollution. NASA pictures clearly show that it is not a Delhi-specific problem but a national crisis, it needs a national solution. Unfortunately, the central environment minister and MP from Delhi, Dr Harsh Vardhan, is holidaying in Goa and says there is no need to panic. This statement is ridiculous. It shows the callous attitude of the BJP government.

Today, the situation is alarming. It needs a cogent, coherent inter-state effort with the help of the central government to tide over this crisis. I agree that Delhi is the worst affected city. But if one looks at the data of air quality index available for November 8, 2017 at 4 pm, it establishes the fact that along with Delhi, three other cities of Haryana - Bhiwadi, Faridabad and Gurgaon, are also in the "severe" zone, with Agra and Ghaziabad not lagging far behind. This means that pollution is equally hurting the health of these cities too, but Delhi remains in focus, and other state governments escape the wrath of the media and pressure groups. It can't be argued that the health of citizens of Delhi is more important than the well-being of the other cities mentioned above. My argument is that this approach is faulty, discriminatory and one-sided. Either we are all victims of short-sightedness or have become slaves of media-driven perception.

In this context, I would like to mention that Delhi has taken remedial measures like banning the entry of trucks, stopping construction activities and closing down all its schools. The odd-even scheme is once again being put into exercise from Monday to Friday next week. May I ask what about Haryana, Punjab and UP? What steps have been taken by their governments? Is Haryana's BJP government also trying out Odd-Even in Bhiwadi, Faridabad and Gurgaon on the lines of Delhi? If yes, then since when? If not, why not? Agra and Ghaziabad are equally bad. Will UP's BJP government act or wait for the pollution to fall into the "severe" category? What about Punjab? If crop-burning is the major reason for smog all across, then what steps is Punjab taking to deal with it? Or will Captain Amarinder Singh stick to indulging in politicking? Crop burning is an old problem and he should explain to the nation what action he has taken so that farmers can stop burning the farm stubble in the open. I hope he understands that election time is over and so is the time for the rhetoric. The AAP MLA Sukhpal Khaira was also seen burning stubble. Party is of the opinion that it was not needed. Politics now should take the back seat.

Punjab is a full state and Captain Amarinder Singh has far more power than the Delhi Chief Minister to initiate action for the welfare of Punjab farmers and also for the sake of the health of entire north India. But most unfortunately, when the Delhi Chief Minister tried to contact him to request a meeting with him and the Chief Minister of Haryana to find some solution, the Captain did not have the courtesy to pick up phone, he preferred to respond on Twitter in a condescending tone. Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar's office also stopped taking his calls. I can understand their antipathy to AAP and its government but they should not forget that they have been chosen by the same constitution which has enabled AAP to form the government in Delhi. They are answerable to the people of India and to the constitution, and even if they hate AAP, they are bound by oath to serve the people. For that, if they have to speak, act and cooperate with their enemies or rivals, they are duty-bound to do that. The conduct of these two Chief Ministers is unbecoming of the constitutional post they hold.

AAP understands the plight of Punjab farmers. The state is going through an agrarian crisis due to the sins of earlier governments and farmers, who were the flag-bearers of the green revolution, are today forced to commit suicide. They neither have the money nor the technology to remove the paddy straw from their fields. By a rough estimate, a farmer requires Rs 5,000 per acre to get rid of the stubble. They have been demanding a subsidy from the state government. But Punjab is a bankrupt state due to the loot of the Akali government for ten years. It has debt of one lakh crore. Punjab has been asking for financial support from the BJP government at the centre. The AAP government has requested Captain Amarinder Singh if he can tell us the estimate of the expenses then AAP government can go along with the him to pursued the Prime Minister to release the fund. Being the main opposition party in Punjab, it is AAP's duty also to fight for the cause of Punjab farmers. But I am sorry to say his response is not encouraging.

The ideal solution would be the meeting of representatives of respective state governments along with the central government in the true spirit of cooperative federalism. But such is the polity in the country that it looks impossible in the near future. Till then, people will suffer and die. AAP has decided to implement "odd-even" in Delhi. No doubt it looks extreme. But let's not forget that it is only an emergency provision. It is not a permanent solution. It's a temporary remedy. The world over, it is used in the same fashion. This trick has been tried by many cities across the globe like China, Paris, Bogota, London, Singapore, and Athens, etc but only when pollution levels cross the emergency mark. To find a  lasting solution, other measures have to be taken over the year.

A city like Delhi should encourage people to increase its use of the public transport system. It is for the larger public good. But here also, the DMRC or Delhi Metro has become the villain. It has doubled its fares despite repeated protests by the AAP government. It has also quadrupled the cost in metro parking earlier this week. Both these measures will certainly discourage commuters from using the metro. Ridership has already declined. I can understand that there are viability issues with the metro but raising the price is not an option, it has to find other creative solutions.

The biggest problem in our democracy is an obsession with politics, envy, unhealthy competition and archaic thinking. Environment and pollution as issues have to still capture the mind-space of the political leaders and bureaucrats. Till pollution and public health become a priority, citizens will continue to suffer. Let us work towards change.

(Ashutosh joined the Aam Aadmi Party in January 2014.)

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