Being a mascot is serious business. And especially, when one aims to become a mascot of the opposition — a sort of counter-force against a mass leader whose popularity remains high — it is but natural that the responsibilities of that role would trump all other accountabilities.
We should allow Arvind Kejriwal that space and time and be a little more lenient with his failures. After all, he is shouldering the burden of emerging as the tour de force who could finally take Narendra Modi down. Critics of Delhi Chief Minister, who say that his measures to tackle Delhi pollution are too little and too late, miss this obvious point.
Many critics are pointing out that the dangerous levels of pollution in Delhi, that has the affluent scampering away from the toxic Capital to other parts of the country like Kolkata (one of history's many ironies), wasn't an overnight development and that the Kejriwal government got enough time to plan its response to a calendar-bound event.
Critics say that for a landlocked city where construction work never ends, vehicular pollution remains high at all times and winter brings vigorous burning of solid waste (scrap wood, tyres, rubbish) as security guards or the poor on the street battle to keep away the bitter cold, there should have been a standard operating procedure in place.
Was it unknown to the Delhi Chief Minister who has been in power for two years, allege critics, that with the onset of winter all of these factors would combine with the seasonal ritual of paddy stubble-burning in neighboring states and create a lethal cocktail of pollutants? If Delhi now stands on the cusp of becoming 1952-era London where deadly smog resulted in around 4,000 premature deaths, who is responsible, ask critics.
The Indian Express, quoting an advocacy group which relies on government data, finds that the smog that has enveloped Delhi is the worst in the last 17 years. The concentration of PM 2.5, tiny particulate pollution that can clog lungs, averaged close to 700 micrograms per cubic meter. That’s 12 times the government norm and a whopping 70 times the WHO standards.
Apart from a host of cardiovascular diseases triggered by sustained exposure to that concentration of PM 2.5, it is akin to children smoking 40 cigarettes a day, The New York Times quoted Sarath Guttikunda, the director of Urban Emissions, an independent research group, as saying. These particulate matters, says the report, penetrate lungs and enter the bloodstream, increasing the risk of stroke and heart failure, and can cause severe respiratory problems including asthma and pneumonia.
Some critics, motivated no doubt by their dislike towards Kejriwal, are accusing the Delhi chief minister of dereliction of duty. They say that Kejriwal should have not waited for Delhi to turn into a gas chamber and then announce a slew of largely ineffective measures. Instead of accusing the Modi government of bringing "Emergency", the Delhi CM should instead concentrate on tackling the real emergency that has put at risk the lives of all its residents, they allege.
What has added to the chorus of criticism against Kejriwal is a report, according to which the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) had warned the Delhi government last year of a calamitous pollution in 2016 if AAP government fails to act on the 42-point advisory.
"We have had nine meetings in the last one year and a 42 point advisory was provided to the government. The CPCB had recommended the use these 42 points to avoid repetition of the pollution that Delhi witnessed in December 2015," Union Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave was quoted, as saying by Times Now.
According to the report, the CPCB provided the AAP government with 15 specific action points including drive against polluting vehicles, green buffers along traffic corridors to check emissions and recommended stringent action against the open burning of biomass and tyres.
The loudmouth critics want to know that if the Kejriwal government had creditable information to act upon and check the pollution in Delhi, why did the Chief Minister wait until Sunday to announce the emergency measures?
Many of the steps hastily announced by the Delhi CM on Sunday, it is being said, are a rehash of the Supreme Court orders passed last year which were not either properly implemented or applied selectively, which implies that its effectiveness is doubtful. Also, the unilateral steps smack of muddled thinking as is the wont of an administration that is too busy locking horns with the Centre to properly administer its responsibilities, say indignant critics.
For instance, it's not clear why school were ordered to be shut down for three days. Will the smog that permeates every school, stay away from residences? Instead of shutting down schools and throwing totally out of gear their schedule and syllabus and thus adversely affecting thousands of students, the Delhi CM could have run a timely awareness campaign to inform residents of the hazards of burning solid waste, a regular occurrence during winter.
According a study conducted by an NGO, burning of municipal solid waste (MSW) resulted in roughly 10% of PM 2.5 (finer pollutants) and PM10 (coarser pollutants) in winters, with 17% of it attributable to the fires lit by security guards. A report in The Times of India, quoting the study, finds that up to three per cent of Delhi's daily generation of 8,390 tonne of MSW was being openly burned in this manner, creating 2,000 kg/day of PM10 and around 1,800 kg of PM 2.5.
But such a pro-active step would require planning. Delhi has outgrown its usefulness for Kejriwal who sees himself as destined for bigger things. When does the CM have the time to sit back and plan to tackle pollution when he has to fly to Una in Gujarat to mobilise Dalits against Modi, rush to Bhiwani and see if the suicide of an ex-serviceman can be turned into a political capital or dash down to JNU and use the disappearance of a student to organise a bigger movement against fascist Modi government?
The truth is, a moth-eaten Delhi where he has to share power with the Centre is nowhere in Kejriwal's scheme of things. Pollution, or no pollution.