Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has blamed “vested interests” for raising the issue of Delhi’s poor air quality at this time and suggested these were linked to “forces that do not want India to progress” and against which the government would “take action”.
“Delhi air quality…has it deteriorated in the last 10 months only? It’s a problem that was existing for the last 10 years. Nobody bothered to ask, raise the question in 10 years. No media, no members, no other NGOs raised the issue of Delhi air quality,” Javadekar said in an interview to The Indian Express today.
Asked what made him come to this conclusion, he said: “That you have to actually find out. I can say that there are vested interests”.
He did not specify what he meant by “vested interests” but suggested that these “vested interests” had been depending on “one embassy’s” data to run the campaign. He did not name the embassy.
“You (the media) must interview them why you (the vested interests) never raised this issue for ten years, why are you raising now only, why you are depending on one embassy’s data, why are you not taking national official data which we are giving free,” he said.
When told that government data, too, showed unprecedented dip in air quality, he said, “I have not said that the situation is not bad.”
Asked what was wrong if air pollution was being highlighted as an issue, Javadekar said he was not finding fault with the media for raising awareness. “Any effort to make people more aware about environmental problems, I always welcome, because I am a democrat. But there are certain people who are charging us for (doing) what we have not done. That is bad. These are vested interests,” he said.
The minister said that in contrast to the inaction of the last 10 years, his government had begun taking action immediately after coming to power.
“Ten years, there was no action. Now we have taken action. Five meetings, three at administrative level, two at ministers’ level. And, we have come up with three programmes… I am not into blame game. I took Delhi government, UP government, Haryana government, Punjab government, Rajasthan government with me, all three corporations (in Delhi), NDMC, Delhi police and all agencies concerned. Every agency has come out with their doable, actionable programme for their three months. Now that programme is (being) put (into action)… How to stop biomass burning, how to stop polluting vehicles not coming in Delhi… How to ensure people’s participation? How to manage the dust?” he said.
The Indian Express, in an ongoing investigative series, ‘Death by Breath’, has reported how gains made by CNG were frittered away seven years ago when the level of toxic RSPM (respiratory suspended particulate matter) started rising after showing a decline for a few years. RSPM levels are now at a record high.
The newspaper has reported how when the curve changed course, the then Congress government in the state and the UPA at the Centre didn’t wake up.
The investigation has also brought to light the alarming increase in respiratory diseases, especially amongst children.
These news reports have been widely quoted by the National Green Tribunal while issuing directions to the Delhi government and adjoining states in a matter it is hearing on air pollution. The NGT’s orders were endorsed by the Supreme Court.
As part of this series, The Indian Express also reported on how schools run by embassies of the United States, France and Germany were taking steps to restrict the exposure of their students to the polluted Delhi air.