Kejriwal does a Nero to Delhi

Arvind Kejriwal is providing running commentary on the torture the people of the national Capital are undergoing as smoke shrouds it. Delhi has become a “gas chamber,” he enlightened us. As if nobody knew this! He is not the only culprit, though; leaders of all political parties are also guilty with varying degrees of culpability; but, as Delhi Chief Minister, his culpability is of the highest order.

As it is, Delhi is among the world’s most polluted cities. In the past week, the pollution levels have soared alarmingly, with dense smog shrouding the city. Irritation in eyes and throats is common; people with respiratory diseases are suffering grievously. As per the data from System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), pollution levels remained “severe” on Sunday, with PM 2.5 at 355 and PM 10 at 482. At 9 a.m., the PM 10 levels were 999 at R.K. Puram, 436 at IGI Airport, 999 at Punjabi Bagh, and 662 at Shanti Path. For the next three days, the forecast is “very poor.”

“Pollution has increased to an extent that outdoors in Delhi are resembling a gas chamber. Prima facie, the biggest reason seems to be burning of stubble in agricultural fields in Haryana and Punjab in huge quantity,” Kejriwal told journalists. But these fires are not a new phenomenon; they have been happening for several years. Bad as farms fires are, they are not the sole cause of Delhi’s problems.

Chetan Chauhan wrote in Hindustan Times (November 6), “But even today, politicians are abdicating their responsibility by blaming stubble burning alone for the ongoing crisis. This is not just counter-productive, it is also an over-simplification. Had the stubble burning in Punjab been the only cause for Delhi’s bad air, pollution in other cities falling between Delhi and Punjab would have been alarmingly high as well.”

Chauhan went on to cite the case of Haryana’s Rohtak, which is in the north-west of Delhi. “Winds bringing smoke from Punjab farms should spike Rohtak’s pollution levels. On Saturday, the particulate matter in the fast-growing township, which has an IIM and an AIIMS, was less than 100 micrograms per cubic metre. About 50 km away, the PM10 level in Delhi’s Punjab Bagh locality on Rohtak Road was nearly 1,200.”

Of course, Kejriwal has no use of such facts; always eager to find a scapegoat, he has found one in farm fires. This is not to say that stubble burning is not a problem, or that the Central government and Delhi’s neighboring states can be absolved of all responsibility for the mess.

In December last year, a 42-point action plan was finalized by the Union Ministry of Environment in consultation with state governments. Little was done to implement it, evident from the gloom that shrouds the national Capital. Which was not surprising, because both Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party were and are interested in undermining each other rather than doing anything meaningful.

As for other state governments, the less said the better. The Manohar Lal Khattar administration in Haryana has other priorities, like cow protection. The Akali-BJP coalition in Punjab is too engrossed in saving its government to bother about something as insignificant as farm fires.

Now that the things have to such a pass, everybody has woken up. The Kejriwal regime is considering giving neighboring states to incentivize them to eradicate or reduce straw burning. A meeting convened by the Centre on Friday with the governments of Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, UP, and Haryana.

A post-review meeting statement of the Ministry said, “The Delhi government will examine the possibility of providing funds from the environment compensation charge (ECC) and diesel cess to neighboring states for incentivizing various machinery like happy seeders, rotavators, straw choppers, gyro rakes, bailers, mulchers to minimize straw burning by farmers.”

What, pray, stopped our political masters from taking such actions in the last few years? None of these require state-of-the-art technology or astronomical amounts of money.

Having failed to take medium- or long-term measures, the powers that be are resorting to short-term, emergency steps. So, the Kejriwal government has ordered vacuum cleaning roads along with water sprinkling, halted all construction projects, shut down schools, banned diesel-powered electricity generators for the next 10 days, and advised people to stay indoors.

Of course, he has also used the crisis to peddle his pet scheme, road rationing by way of odd-even. It may be recalled that this exercise in tokenism is the only action that Kejriwal can boast of. And one may not be surprised that if his administration ends up focusing on this stupid scheme only. Nero is said to have fiddled while Rome burnt; Kejriwal is likely to indulge in politicking as the people of Delhi choke to death.

He is surely not among the politicians who behave, can be made to behave, like decent human beings.