"If you talk about north India, the whole of north India is polluted. Today, pollution is more in Greater Noida than in Delhi. There are 53 districts in India that are polluted out of which 20 are in Haryana. This situation is in the whole of north India. If any such event (of stubble burning) takes place anywhere in north India, the whole region is affected," said Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai, the man in the eye of the storm as the national capital chokes yet again.
While the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government huddles every day as pollution levels reach all-time high, many sense a change in stand by the party over stubble burning in Punjab, now that Bhagwant Mann is leading the state.
Did the Arvind Kejriwal government in Delhi take measures beforehand? What did the Bhagwant Mann government in Punjab do to stop stubble burning? When will politicking stop and actual action begin?
Rai answers some inportant questions on the 11th episode of 'Badi Badi Baatein!'
Welcome to The Quint and Quint Hindi and welcome to our show 'Badi Badi Baatein'. Why is it that when winters approach Delhi, being able to breathe becomes such a 'badi baat' for the people of Delhi?
There are two factors in it. If you see, this situation used to be all year long in Delhi in the past. The Centre has released a data that shows that the air in Delhi used to be below the poor category only for 109 days. Arvind Kejriwal's government came to power and environment became a focus point. There were lots of efforts made. This year, the air of Delhi was clean for 204 days.
The second factor is - especially after 1 November - the meteorological condition of Delhi and the change of weather across the country, the speed of wind is low for the past 8-10 days.
There's a stagnation. The temperature is falling. So, there's a blanket of pollutants getting formed in the sky instead of them getting dispersed in the atmosphere.
These are special circumstances. What can be done? For that, the sources of pollution need to be tackled. We can't control the change of weather but we can control the sources of pollution. The government is taking every possible measure to do that.
If we talk of Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, stubble burning is considered to be one of the most important factors. Punjab is ruled by the AAP now. During the elections, there were promises made to stop stubble burning. What have the measures been taken by Punjab for that?
If you talk about north India, the whole of north India is polluted. Today, pollution is more in Greater Noida than in Delhi. There are 53 districts in India that are polluted out of which 20 are in Haryana. This situation is in the whole of north India. If any such event (of stubble burning) takes place anywhere in north India, the whole region is affected.
You spoke about Punjab. We had made a commitment that we will tackle the issue of stubble burning when we formed the government. We have succeeded to a large extent in our efforts. If you take data from 15 September to now, we have seen a fall of over 50% in stubble burning in the state.
But since sowing season is approaching, all the remaining farmers have sped up stubble burning and we can see its impact everywhere. The redressal of this issue could have been better if the central government would have cooperated. One of the solutions is that the Centre and the state governments together provide subsidies to farmers to buy machines. The state and the Centre both contribute to those subsidies. The farmers cannot buy these machines on their own. Farmers say that they want affordable solutions. Some solutions have been kept before the SC by the Punjab government and we hope there are some resolutions. The burning has reduced to less than 50% this year and we hope that it reduces further next year.
But, the NCR region around Delhi, there's BJP government. All states - Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and the Centre are being ruled by the BJP. The Centre is quiet, the Haryana government is quiet, and the UP government is quiet. The silence is not going to help. Everybody will have to cooperate. We are running electric buses in Delhi. But regions all around it are still running Diesel buses. We have provided 24x7 electricity in Delhi so there's less use of diesel generators. But diesel generators are running all across UP and Haryana. That pollution is also coming here.
There are no brick kilns in Delhi but they are present everywhere around Delhi. All that pollution is coming here.
What I am saying is that whatever Delhi has to do, it is doing that. We have asked all five states to hold a meeting several times but the Centre did not do anything. The SC had to intervene and ask the states to meet. If all states cooperate, there can be solutions to this.
There was a statement made by the party a few days ago that Punjab is far and the main culprit for the pollution is Haryana. many perceived this as a change of stand on stubble burning in Punjab because the state is rule by AAP now.
There is no change in stand but the facts change with time. Everybody knows this fact that less stubble was burnt in Punjab this year compared to previous years. You take fact by AIR, the agricultural department or NASA, they have the same facts and we do too. Second, when that statement was made, if the wind speed is low, the wind is not taking the pollution from one place to the other.
So, if there's low wind speed in Delhi, the pollution that's entering Delhi is from the neighbouring states first and then from the farther places. So, if the north-west speed increases, the pollution from Punjab will come to Delhi too. This is about facts, this is not about changing any stand.
In what ways has the Delhi government approached other states?
See, the only way we can approach is via the Centre. We have BJP governments in all states around us and at the Centre. So, we always ask the Centre to fix up meetings with them. We keep issues before them in these meetings.
Have neighbouring states responded to your approaches?
There was a joint meeting held with the states and the Centre. The states did commit to taking certain steps. The CAQM had directed that there should be no diesel buses entering Delhi after 1 November this year. This commitment was made but it was not fulfilled. Diesel buses are still entering Delhi.
I checked in the nights too but the buses still ply. So, we see carelessness when it comes to implementation of the commitments and the Centre is also responsible for that carelessness.
Whenever we talk pollution, we talk blame game, we talk stubble burning. But we never see a united front by the states or the ruling dispensation that we will sit together and tackle the issue of pollution. Why is that so?
The Centre has to answer that. Only the Centre has the power to solve this problem of the whole of north India. Only the Centre can make the states coordinate, not any state government. We have our government in Punjab and we are talking to them. The result is that stubble burning has reduced to 50% and we hope it reduces further next year.
But the Centre is running from its responsibilities. It feels like there's no environment ministry at the Centre. The Centre will have to answer as to why it is not doing anything. The responsibilities of the Delhi government are flawlessly being fulfilled by us and we will keep doing it in the future too.
In what ways has the Centre been approached by the Delhi government?
In every way. I wrote a letter last week, too, that the aftereffect of pollution has increased and a meeting should be called. Forget about calling a meeting, they don't even bother to respond to my letter. Now, a meeting has been called only after the SC's orders.
What are the precautions that the Delhi government takes before winter approaches?
We had started making the Winter Action Plan in September itself. If you talk about stubble in Delhi, it is very less. But whatever is there, we use bio-decomposers to get rid of it. If you talk about dust pollution, we started a campaign against it on 7 October, this is to control Delhi's dust.
We have done water sprinkling in Delhi as well. We start checking PUCs of vehicles as well as industrial pollution. The Winter Action Plan was announced by Arvind Kejriwal on 30 September and we have been consistently working on it.
Why is the smog tower dysfunctional in Delhi?
It was dysfunctional before. The Supreme Court had ordered for the smog tower to be installed. The Delhi government took a decision and gave the money for it.
But the DPCC chairman unilaterally decided to shut it. When these issues were raised before the SC yesterday, the SC ordered for it to be started again. The work has started there and we have asked for the SC order to be implemented.
What kind of measures can we expect by the Delhi government in the coming days?
The main focus right now is on the sources of pollution. One is vehicular pollution so we have brought in the odd-even scheme.
The court has asked for some studies and if the court agrees, we will implement more measures. Another way is artificial rains. We are in talks with IIT-Kanpur for cloud seeding. So, we are taking efforts on all technological fronts. As much as can be done by Delhi, it is being done.
These are short-term solutions. Does the Delhi government have any blueprint for long-term solutions?
We are working on the blueprint. We are planning to switch the public transport of Delhi from CNG to electric. But the problem is that we will run electric vehicles in Delhi but the surrounding states will keep running diesel, that contradiction is not in our hands.
They will keep increasing the pollution that we are trying to control. That's the contradiction. Another solution is to increase the green cover. When we formed the government, the green cover in Delhi was 20 percent. Today, it is over 23%. We are working to increase it further. The third is to do away with diesel generators. For that, we are working towards giving 24X7 electricity for that. It is the effect of long-term plans that people of Delhi only had 109 days (of clean air) before, now they have 205. But the problem is, we are surrounded from all sides. We face the consequences of whatever they do. We clean it here but they send the pollution from there.
What are the expectations from the neighbouring states and the Centre?
We expect that whatever rules are to be followed, need to be followed by everyone. The SC yesterday said that firecracker are banned in Delhi. But they are not banned all around us and that is the reason that when they are burst there, the pollution increases there too.
We have banned them here but they need to ban them too. Similarly, we have implemented GRAP rules but all NCR governments should too. We have stopped construction here but it continues in Greater Noida, so it impacts us too. If all the governments follow the rules that we do, only them a major impact will be seen.