The Union Minister believes pollution on account of stubble burning will be less this year because of Centre’s measures, asserts the country will see “minimum loss” because of Covid-19 in winter months, and says Congress not the BJP is raking up Pakistan in Bihar polls. The session was moderated by Special Correspondent Krishn Kaushik
KRISHN KAUSHIK: How would you assess the government’s communication strategy in the past six months of the pandemic?
The Prime Minister spoke from the heart and addressed people directly. It had a lot of impact. India minimised its losses due to people’s participation on the Prime Minister’s appeal.
Even for the (coronavirus) challenge in the winter months, he has already talked from the bottom of his heart to the people.
We will succeed then too, and India will see minimum loss. We will win this war against the coronavirus.
KRISHN KAUSHIK: What can the government do to ensure that TRP data is more robust? Secondly, even as an investigation into the alleged rigging of TRP continues, you as a Union minister along with the BJP president tweeted about it. Why the need to come out and defend one person and an organisation?
No… Let me make it very clear that the government doesn’t take sides. I’m saying it very clearly that repression of press is not welcome. That is the only message of my tweet. I have not mentioned any channel or person.
The BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) is an independent institute founded by advertisers and broadcasters. It is the job of both these stakeholders to run BARC efficiently; we have not interfered in it.
Two of my representatives, not as part of Ministry but as broadcasters of Doordarshan, participate in BARC proceedings. But other than that we don’t interfere in their affairs. Are you inviting me to interfere?
LIZ MATHEW: Why did the BJP feel the need to raise Pakistan in the Bihar poll campaign when, as you claim, you have a good governance report card to take to the people?
We are not creating problems, it is the Congress party that is creating problems for themselves. Who spoke in Lahore (Think Fest)? It was Shashi Tharoor… When you are talking about Article 370 or any other thing like Pakistan, if you are speaking the language of Pakistan, there will be definite reactions. So, we are not digging up something that they spoke about 10 years ago, we are just reacting to their recent tweets, recent utterances… And we are asking questions on why they are talking Pakistan’s language on Kashmir.
LIZ MATHEW: In the 2015 Bihar elections too, then BJP president Amit Shah had said that if the BJP loses, there will be fireworks in Pakistan. The party’s own assessment was that the comment may have backfired. So why bring up Pakistan again?
But we are not saying it… The Congress is speaking, Rahul Gandhi said… P Chidambaram and Digvijaya Singh tweeted that we will restore Article 370 (the Congress said it had only objected to way the provision was abrogated). So, I challenge them to write this in the Bihar manifesto. What is wrong in giving political reaction to a political tweet or political speech?
ESHA ROY: The draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020 received a record number of objections and suggestions. Is the Ministry looking at including these recommendations and, maybe, overhauling the draft completely?
See, as far as the EIA draft is concerned, we welcome all suggestions and criticism. We have appointed a committee to go through all of them. What we have found is that 98% (objections, suggestions) have the same wording and matter, but we have taken cognizance of everything. But let me tell you things will take little time because the quantum (of suggestions) was large.
We cannot say that 30-40 days… But the analysis will take some time and after that we will announce our decision on the subject. We will also explain to the people what the EIA actually proposes, what is the change from 2006 to 2014, and that we have just consolidated many of the things which were already done in the 2012-13 period…
But let the things come to that stage, then we will discuss with the people, not now.
KRISHN KAUSHIK: The issue of air pollution has come up again in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and NCR.
Basically, the acceptance of a problem is also the beginning of solution. In 2015, the Prime Minister launched the national Air Quality Index. Till that time there was only manual, voluminous data available. There wasn’t one figure for air quality index… Based on findings from various towns and cities, we have chalked out the national clean air programme for 100 cities. On August 15, the Prime Minister said that in thousand days or in three-four years, we are going to improve the air quality in these hundred cities. This includes special focus on the Delhi-NCR region…
We have taken so many steps, let me enumerate. First, throughout the country we have launched BS-VI fuel as well as (compliant) vehicles. It is a revolutionary step and will reduce vehicular pollution by 50-60-70% on various parameters.
Secondly, close to 60,000 vehicles that had no work in the city would pass through it and add to the pollution. Now, because of completion of the Western Peripheral Expressway, which was not completed in 10 years, and which we completed in four years, such vehicles don’t enter Delhi…
Thirdly, we have closed the Badarpur and Sonipat thermal power plants. More importantly, we have created 87 Gigawatt of renewable power throughout the country; it’s not a small thing. It is completely natural, pollution-free… We have also arranged more than 40 crore LED bulbs saving tremendous power, which also reduces pollution.
We have brought in construction and demolition waste management rules for the first time. We have borrowed the good practices of Metro construction… So, curtains are being put up, there are sprinklers to prevent dust… Delhi also has a geographical problem.
We have the Himalayan winter coupled with dust in the air and the moisture from the rivers… If you download the Sameer app, it provides the present position of pollution in more than 122 cities. You will understand that the alluvial soil region, that is the gangetic plains, has the maximum pollution load compared to other provinces with the same traffic, same industries, same population load… Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai don’t get this much pollution. So, (in the Delhi-NCR belt) geographical factors are also responsible (for causing pollution).
The Central government has taken action in every field… To curb stubble burning, we have given Rs 1,400 crore for machines and many farmers are using machines (to remove stubble). When this year’s stubble burning season is over, there will be lesser pollution on account of it. That is what scientists are expecting.
So, let us wait and see. But we have taken action on all fronts.
SHIVAM PATEL: It seems that while Delhi has taken a lot of steps to check pollution — banning diesel generators, shutting down Badarpur plant, plying more CNG buses — the other NCR towns have not been so proactive. What can be done about that?
There are some local issues… It is not one state versus another state. It is not about a blamegame. We all have to work together because airshed doesn’t understand political or geographical boundaries.
ADITI RAJA: The Gujarat government applied for environment clearances for water aerodromes at Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad and near Sardar Sarovar dam in Kevadia colony for the seaplane project only in July, even as the inaugural run is planned for October 31. With MoEF clearances pending for the Sabarmati terminal of the project, would the project not be in violation of the EIA Notification?
When a proposal is submitted officially, we give our decisions officially. So when that will come, you will understand what has happened. But more importantly, my question to you all is whether we want to explore new kinds of tourism or not?
The seaplane causes no pollution, it’s a wonderful thing… Of course, there are precautions which need to be taken. So we will definitely work with the Gujarat government in this regard… Seaplane is a wonderful avenue not just for tourism but will be useful in providing local services.
PRABHA RAGHAVAN: The Power Minister had made a recommendation to your Ministry in August to extend by two years the deadline for thermal power plants to install the flue-gas desulfurization (FGD) systems to minimise pollution from their operations, for over 300 thermal power units. Is there any update on that?
The status is that some plants already have FGDs installed in their systems, while many others had given orders for it but their plans were disrupted because of the pandemic. So, there will definitely be some delay in procuring the machinery. There are some plants which are yet to place their orders and are preparing the DPR, and a small number of plants have not prepared the DPR. So, the plants are at different stages. We are in continuous touch with the industry. They have also been in recession as we know… (The extension) depends on a case-to-case basis. We have already done the reviews, and I mentioned the four stages in which the plants are… I am very sure that Indian industry will be cleaner… We are investing Rs 46,000 crore in new technology called ‘coal-to-liquid’ that will reduce pollution to a great extent. So, on all avenues we have started taking action. Today, the absolute coal consumption of America is little more than what India uses.
NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN: Recently, veteran Maharashtra politician Eknath Khadse quit the BJP, and has now joined the NCP. Did the BJP make enough of an effort to retain him? Doesn’t his departure dent the party in Maharashtra, or was it that you wanted to make an example out of him? Secondly, the BJP has been saying that the ruling coalition government in Maharashtra is very unstable and that it will collapse anytime now. But we also hear that there are others from the BJP waiting in the wings to jump ship.
As far as Eknath Khadse is concerned, he is our senior leader and has worked for the party for 40 years. There were some problems and if he has taken a decision, it is his decision, it was not forced by the party.
As far as people waiting to jump ship is concerned, actually the reverse is happening… See let us understand the election results in Maharashtra properly. The Shiv Sena won on Narendra Modi’s posters. The BJP-Shiv Sena got a majority. We fought as an alliance and the alliance got 160 seats. We got a full majority in the elections.
We should have been ruling. Instead, the Shiv Sena ditched the BJP and went with those who we defeated, the Congress and the NCP… So it is the Shiv Sena which is answerable, not the BJP.
MANOJ C G: A Delhi-based journalist working with Malayalam news outlets was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) while on his way to Hathras. As the I&B Minister have you tried to speak to the Uttar Pradesh government about this case?
We have received information of the case and you can also ask the government, the government is open to it… But what we are asking the Congress is that while you are making noise on Hathras, 10 places in Rajasthan have seen worse crimes. So the Congress cannot have selective amnesia. They have to condemn all incidents.
AAKASH JOSHI: How do you see the politicisation of the Sushant Singh Rajput case ahead of the Bihar elections?
The case is under investigation by three Central agencies. People have faith in them, let them give their final report. The matter is in court, and the agencies will submit their report in the court… Yes, there may be a local reaction of people or voters to a certain case in a certain way. But we do not see it as one state versus another.
SHUBHAJIT ROY: It’s been five-and-a-half months since the border standoff with China began. Has the issue been discussed in the nearly 20 Cabinet meetings that have taken place in this period?
China is being closely monitored. China has also understood that India today is not the India of pre-2014. There has been a change. We have given a fitting response. And the government has made it very clear that we have not succumbed an inch… The Cabinet Committee on Security always keeps track of developments, practically every minute, every day, and takes decisions. The issue is discussed in the Cabinet Committee of Security in which all the member Cabinet ministers are present… The government has made it clear that not a single inch of Indian land has gone anywhere.
KRISHN KAUSHIK: Your party announced free vaccine in Bihar as part of its election manifesto. Will people outside Bihar get free Covid-19 vaccine?
If the vaccine comes, it will be for everyone, not for one state… You will have to ask (Health Minister) Harsh Vardhanji about it (the BJP’s poll promise in Bihar).
If the party mentions something in its manifesto, it is an intended programme. Now somebody has to subsidise that government programme. If the government decides to subsidise it, that is a different matter. Let the vaccine come. Then every state will help their citizens differently.
KRISH KAUSHIK: There is a lot of talk these days about what media should do, what it is doing, what is it not doing…
That is what my question to the media is. Every day many high courts are also suggesting that the Ministry intervene, not only in the TRP scam and BARC, but even other areas of programming. We don’t censor. We believe in self-regulation.
Now whether self-regulation works or not…. Recently, two prominent news channel owners had come to me.
They wanted to give me a letter urging the government to intervene to save the industry from going down. I told them, broadcasters and advertisers are the two stakeholders. Who gets how much is a private thing, it has nothing to do with the government. Therefore, we never intervened.
There have also been discussions about OTT platforms. I have called them twice to talk about a credible self-regulation method, but they have not come up with a proposal.
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