The Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) lone Lok Sabha MP — Bhagwant Mann from Sangrur, Punjab — remained absent as the House debated effects of air pollution and climate change in India for over three hours, during which the Congress and the BJP took similar lines to say that stubble burning in Punjab and other neighbouring states was not majorly responsible for air pollution in Delhi.
The BJP, whose MP from East Delhi constituency, Gautam Gambhir, had recently faced criticism for skipping a Parliamentary panel meeting on pollution, had a field day, using the opportunity to take swipes at the Delhi government.
Arvind Kejriwal remained the proverbial elephant in the room addressed by BJP MPs.
The BJP’s Delhi MPs — Gambhir, Pravesh Verma, Meenakshi Lekhi and Manoj Tiwari —stayed put throughout the debate, as did Environment and Forests Minister Prakash Javadekar, in an apparent political signal that the ruling party takes the subject seriously, as discussions under Lok Sabha’s rule 193 does not require a reply from the government.
The debate was low on attendance, between 50 and 105 MPs present at any point.
Leading the charge, Verma said, “The Kejriwal government’s advertisement budget is Rs 600 crore. Instead of doing anything about air pollution, he is busy spending on ads. He is giving ads to blame farmers and stubble burning in neighbouring states, while the fact is that pollution in Delhi is because of vehicles, industrial gases and dust particles.”
Verma said the Delhi government spent Rs 70 crore on advertisements on the odd-even scheme — to restrict cars on alternate days in an effort to curb vehicular pollution. He also said the state has not made any new roads and is merely finishing what had been started by the previous Sheila Dikshit government.
Manoj Tiwari alleged that Kejriwal is “running away from responsibilities” in mitigating pollution and “only giving excuses”. He asked, “If stubble burning by poor farmers is the problem, why can’t Delhi government spend a fraction of its huge advertisement budget, like Rs 50 crore, and buy the stubble from farmers?”
Making a short statement, Gambhir termed the odd-even scheme a “gimmick” in the middle of a “climate emergency”. He said, “The state can no longer get away with these gimmicks like odd-even, shutting construction sites, etc. What do they have to do so that they do not reach this situation?”
Congress’s Manish Tewari read out data that 41 per cent of Delhi’s air pollution was caused by vehicular emission, 18 per cent by industrial emission, and said the small farmer in Punjab had no way but to burn stubble. “We don’t support stubble burning, but we have to face the economic realities. The small farmer is compelled to burn stubble. There should be a financial incentive for him from the government to not burn stubble,” he said. “By blaming farmers for pollution you are doing injustice to farmers and farming.”
Seeking a standing committee specifically on pollution-related matters and climate change, Tewari said the government should strengthen the Air Act of 1981 as a means to address this problem. While lauding the Modi government for the National Clean Air programme launched in 2018, he criticised the Rs 300 crore budget allocation to it and called it too meagre an amount to clean the country’s air.