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By Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO, 9 October 2019. Petty politics seems to at play in Delhi, as the chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, is prevented from attending the C-40 Climate Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, from October 9 to 12, by the Narendra Modi led central government. Kejriwal was invited to this summit, but he and his eight-member team were denied political clearance for it, without stating any reasons for the same. The permission is a mere formality and is granted to elected representatives unless there are extraordinary reasons prevailing for denying permission, which needs to be clearly stated.
Arvind Kejriwal was the only chief minister from India invited to share his experience of how sustained efforts led to not only stabilizing pollution in Delhi but bending the pollution curve, to reduce it by a remarkable 25%. Delhi is the only city in the country to register this significant change, for the first time in several years.
This is the fourth time, that a minister from Delhi, has been prevented from foreign travel, to share their exceptional work with the international community. It may be recalled that the Modi government at the center, led by Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), has been constantly trying to thumb down the revolutionary work by the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi.
The deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia has been barred twice from going to Austria and Moscow respectively, to talk about the sweeping changes they have been wrought in the Delhi education system. The health minister Satyendra Jain too was prevented from traveling to Australia, to share his experiences of completely turning around the health care system in Delhi. AAP’s work in Delhi, not only puts other BJP ruled states in the shade, for lack of any constructive work, in their states, in the last five years, but it also raises questions about the Modi government’s achievements so far.
The pettiness seems to have been compounded by the fact that despite all the spanners put in their work by the Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal, also roping in the media to discredit their work, the international community is still recognizing Delhi government’s work. While Sisodia managed to talk about his success with public education in Delhi, in Harvard last year, Kejriwal got to visit Seoul last year too. He with the mayor Park Won Soon, who had received the Magsaysay Award with Kejriwal, signed agreements on pollution, water, public transport, education, and urban development. Several world leaders like Ban Ki-Moon and Kofi Annan both UN secretary generals, and former WHO director-general Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland have appreciated the Delhi public health model.
Though foreign diplomacy is the center’s concern, it can only be in India’s interest if state governments too play an important role in foreign policy initiatives, by sharing their success which could be of interest to the international community as well. Delhi is one of the largest metropolises in the world, with a critical pollution problem, its leader Kejriwal was invited to join leaders from other countries including New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles, and Berlin to deliberate on climate crisis impacting the world.
Expressing disappointment at the turn of events, the national spokesperson of AAP, Dr. Ajoy Kumar, stressed that the central government deciding on chief ministers’ travels abroad, is very arbitrary and smacks of a power game at play. The decision to veto the travels of a popular chief minister seems to be subject to the whims and fancies of the Narendra Modi government, he said.
He surmised the issue by saying that it is as if the Modi government is actually scared of the popularity of state-level leaders and such a denial can only be termed regressive.
Interestingly, just two days before the summit, the environment minister Prakash Javadekar, addressed a press conference, taking the entire credit for pollution management in Delhi, despite the fact that similar success has not been replicated in any of the other BJP ruled states. At the conference, he did not add anything new to the detailed information already shared by Kejriwal, in September itself, on how the pollution issue was tackled by a series of steps, in Delhi.
Though Javadekar claimed that the center had spent crores in bringing pollution down, in not just Delhi, but the rest of the country as well, the fact remains that the neighboring cities of Delhi, all of which fall in BJP ruled states, Gurgaon, Faridabad in Haryana and Ghaziabad and Noida in UP, continue to register high pollution figures, till date.
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Among the top 10 polluting cities in the world, the top two spots are shared by Gurgaon and Ghaziabad while Delhi occupies 11th position. Recently the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), placed a report in parliament, concluding that in 2016-2018, pollution levels had indeed dropped by 25%.
The report also pointed out that the days that the pollution levels were in severe category in 2011-14 was 40 days, which fell to 15 days between 2016-2018. In the period between 2011-2014, the number of `good’ days, when pollution is in the safe zone was only 12 which jumped to 205 days in 2016-18. A remarkable achievement since in this period, Delhi’s population too had gone up and so has the number of vehicles on the road.
So how did they do it?
One of the first steps which helped curb pollution in Delhi was by streamlining the power sector and reducing power cuts reduced by 80-90%. The Environmental Pollution Control Authority (EPCA), pointed out that in 2014, there were 11.7 crore units power cuts in Delhi, which dropped to just 1.7 crores units power cuts last year. Because of the continuous supply of electricity, people stopped the usage of diesel generators. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the largest and most credible institute working towards climate control, reports that diesel generators, alone result in a 30 to 50% increase in pollution. An estimated five lakh generators were in use before 2014. Neighboring cities like Gurgaon, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, and Noida, still use these highly polluting generators. As a result, if there is a power cut for just two hours in these cities, the generators, release about a tonne or 1000 kilos of particulate matter in the air.
The second factor which helped improve the air quality was when truck traffic from other states, passing through Delhi were directed on the eastern and western peripheral way. Several thousands of trucks from UP to Haryana and vice versa, passed through the city in the night, polluting it. The state government imposed heavy environmental compensation charges, in case they entered Delhi, so trucks were forced to take the outer route. The Centre for Road Research Institute observed that just by using the east peripheral route Delhi’s pollution dropped by 7%.
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The third step undertaken was to control construction dust. The environment minister Imran Hussain along with officers, raided big construction sites and mandatory to cover these sites, so no dust escapes outside. Besides using mechanized sweeping all over Delhi, the government also plans to decrease dust on the sides of roads by greening it. Increased dust levels in the city will also be reduced by giant water sprinklers when needed.
The fourth major step was planting lakhs of trees. The central forest departments survey states that the green cover in Delhi increased from 20.2 % in 2015 to 22.6% in 2017, at a time when tree cutting and deforestation has increased rapidly in the rest of the country.
The fifth reason was the shutting down of two thermal power stations in Rajghat and Badarpur, operating on coal, causing a lot of polluting emissions.
The sixth reason was that they shifted all Industries in Delhi to cleaner fuels like PNG and LNG, instead of polluting fuels like pet coke, furnace oil tyre oil, coal.
While Delhi generates 35% of its pollution, the rest of it caused by the seasonal crop burning that happens between 25 0ctober to 20 November each year, in neighboring states of Haryana and Punjab. After farmers harvest their crops, they burn the remainder of the crops, rather than spending time and labor, digging it out. The smoke generated from these fires, hangs in the air, during winter forming a smoke cover over Delhi. The issue can be easily fixed by offering farmers a subsidy in acquiring happy seeder machines, which also help generate income from these leftover crops, which would be otherwise burnt. But neither of the state governments has shown any intention of addressing the problem so far.
Among other major steps that the government plans to undertake is to increase the bus fleet by about 4000 buses, besides adding another 1000 buses running on electricity
One of their very innovative steps of the Delhi government, which was to be discussed at the summit too, was the odd and even scheme, where cars with even-numbered license plates and those with odd numbers were allowed on the roads on alternate days, to encourage car-pooling, as one of the measures for pollution control.
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