Updated: June 5, 2014 3:00:44 am
Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said air pollution in Delhi was a priority for the new government at the Centre and that there was a need for policy-making to go hand-in-hand with an assessment of health. He suggested that each ministry in the government formulate a separate ‘sub-department for health’.
Harsh Vardhan told Newsline that the creation of sub-departments within each ministry was vital as a long-term measure to curb pollution. “These sub-departments should be created to analyse the environmental and health impact of policies, particularly the impact on air pollution. This will ensure long term containment of air pollution in Delhi and across the country,” he said.
After the 2014 version of the Ambient Air Pollution (AAP) database released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Delhi to have the the dirtiest air in the world, with an annual average of 153 micrograms of small particulates, Harsh Vardhan laid the blame for the degradation of the city’s air on the previous Congress government in Delhi and the Centre. “Not a single policy was formed by either UPA-I or UPA-II to protect the common man from environmental degradation and air pollution. Moreover, it was the previous BJP government in Delhi that took the decision to convert all public utility vehicles to CNG, which the Sheila Dikshit government implemented after much pressure from the Supreme Court,” he said.
The minister said the Dikshit-led Congress government had subsequently failed to implement the follow-up steps recommended by experts to curb air pollution.
The Congress, in turn, pinned the blame on the BJP opposition in Delhi. “Whether it was the implementation of CNG or the Bus Rapid Transit in Delhi — it was the BJP which fiercely opposed the two and at times managed to derail policies aimed at improving air quality. It’s easy for them to now turn around and blame the Congress, when in fact the BJP has been instrumental in Delhi’s rapidly deteriorating air quality,” Arvinder Singh Lovely, Delhi Congress president and former Delhi cabinet minister, said.
However experts said that actions to curb air pollution has always been hampered by the lack of political will, irrespective of parties, to take decisions that might harm them electorally.
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“One of the most important short-term measures that need to be taken in Delhi to fight air pollution is to increase parking rates to discourage people from using private cars. At the same time, using buses should be encouraged and this is only possible if buses are swift through the use of dedicated bus corridors. But policies pertaining to bus corridors and increasing parking rates are rarely successful due to the lack of political will to make unpopular decisions,” Anumita Roychowdhury, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), said.
But after the WHO report revealed the extent of Delhi’s appalling air quality, the Delhi government was forced to take action. Lieutenant-Governor Najeeb Jung formed a committee comprising different departments to look into vehicular air pollution, and asked them to formulate long-term and short-term measures to tackle Delhi’s air pollution within a month. “We will be submitting our report within the month and we will take speedy action. We are taking the matter very seriously,” Sanjeev Kumar, secretary, environment department, Delhi government, said.
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