The Centre “postponed” three meetings on air quality between September and October, AAP alleged Sunday, releasing documents to back its claim, and questioned Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar’s commitment on tackling air pollution. Hours later, P K Misra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, held a meeting with chief secretaries of Delhi, Haryana and Punjab through video conferencing to review the situation.
According to papers released by AAP, a scheduled meeting of NCR ministers on September 12 was “postponed” via telephonic message to the states concerned and the ones scheduled for October 17 and October 19 were also “postponed” via email. The Union government, however, said the Principal Secretary had reviewed the situation on October 24 and several meetings had taken place for necessary preparation, including one by the Cabinet Secretary on October 4.
On Sunday, Delhi’s AQI was 494 (severe). The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI) released a study, as per which the average PM 2.5 levels in the last 15 days show a steady increase that can be “directly attributed to growing number of fires detected in a region upwind of Delhi”.
It was expected that light drizzle witnessed in some parts of the city Saturday would improve air quality. But a fog formed Sunday morning, holding more pollutants in the air, weather officials said. “Good rain improves air quality but last night’s… condition acted as catalyst towards increasing air-holding capacity,” SAFAR, which comes under the Centre, said.
Calm wind speed also caused low dispersion of pollutants. A slight improvement is expected if sun rays start to break through the haze conditions, SAFAR said.
AQI is expected to remain in ‘severe’ category until Monday evening. By Thursday, AQI could improve if it rains and wind speed increases, IMD officials said.
On September 26, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal had written to Javadekar, urging the Centre to take immediate steps to curb stubble burning by coordinating with Punjab and Haryana.
The Union Environment Ministry refused to comment on the allegations levelled by AAP.
Earlier last week, Javadekar had lashed out at Kejriwal for politicising the issue: “Instead of blaming Punjab and Haryana, leaders from all five states in the region should sit together. Instead of doing that, if one chooses to indulge in a blame game, a lot of secrets will tumble out.”
Addressing a press conference, senior AAP leaders Atishi and Raghav Chadha Sunday raised five questions for Javadekar, going on to liken him with “Dhritarashtra”, the blind king in Mahabharata.
“As per the affidavit filed by the Centre in the Supreme Court, it is noted that they have distributed only 63,000 machines as an alternative to stubble burning, whereas the number of farmers is around 22 lakh. Why did the Centre, in the last five months, not call any multi-state meeting? Now that the situation has reached emergency levels, why has a meeting not been called in the last five days?” said Atishi.
Chadha said: “It is unfortunate that in this severe air emergency, the Prime Minister is in Thailand, Health Minister is in Chennai and Environment Minister today morning, through his tweet, suggested that people listen to music.” Javadekar had shared the thematic composition “Swagatam”, by Veena exponent Emani Sankara Sastry, and asked people to start their day with music.