On Sunday, the intense toxic haze building up in North India over the past week reached apocalyptic levels. Ten monitoring stations in the National Capital Region recorded pollution levels in the “severe plus emergency” category.
#DelhiAirEmergency was the top Twitter trend, followed by #DelhiPollution and #DelhiBachao – literally, save Delhi.
Despite living in Delhi, however, top ministers in the Prime Minister Narenda Modi government seemed to be on another planet.
Environment minister Prakash Javadekar tweeted in the morning to ask Indians to start their day with music.
His tweet came after a day of squabbling between the Central government and the Delhi government. On Saturday, Javadekar accused Delhi chief minister Kejriwal of “politicising” air pollution and claimed the Centre had organised interstate meetings between officials and ministers of North Indian states about the problem.
But a government document surfaced on Sunday showing that Javadekar had cancelled the previous three meetings of state environment ministers scheduled in September and October.
India’s health minister Harshvardhan also tweeted some advice in the morning: Eat carrots for “help against pollution-related harm”.
This prompted much carrot-munching on Twitter.
Uttar Pradesh minister Sunil Bharala, meanwhile, noted that farmers have always practiced stubble burning, a major cause of atmospheric pollution as smoke from neighbouring states gathers over the capital. “It’s a natural system,” said Bharatala, reported ANI. “Repeated criticism of it is unfortunate.”
He offered a solution: “Governments should hold yagnas [Hindu rituals held in front of a sacred fire] to please Lord Indra [the God of rain] as done traditionally. He will set things right.”
Perhaps working with the knowledge that rituals and carrots alone cannot help, the bureaucrat heading Indian government’s policy think tank, the Niti Aayog, declared that he planned to move away from Delhi after he retired.
The mandate of the Niti Aayog is to help India “achieve sustainable development goals with cooperative federalism” – exactly what is needed for tackling the pollution emergency in North India. No single state government can tackle the crisis. What is needed is collaborative action. That is where the Centre must take the lead. But there are no signs of that happening.
A journalist with the New York Times put it quite simply.
Actually, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did say something – not on the pollution, though.
With no decisive leadership in sight, former Election Commission SY Quraishi offered up a dose of gallows humour.