Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar on Saturday accused Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal of “politicising” the air pollution in Delhi-National Capital Region, referring to the chief minister’s encouragement to schoolchildren to write to the Punjab and Haryana chief ministers. The Union minister’s attack came as Kejriwal sent him a letter asking for the government’s plan to deal with crop burning in neighbouring states, Hindustan Times reported.

The air quality over the past few days in the city have been the worst so far this season.

The Ministry of Earth Sciences’ System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research, or SAFAR, showed a real-time Air Quality Index of 625 around 9 am on Sunday. However, according to the National Air Quality Index, given by the Central Pollution Control Board, the overall air quality in Delhi was 483 at 8 am because it gives a 24-hour average.

An AQI between 0-50 is considered “good”, 51-100 “satisfactory”, 101-200 “moderate”, 201-300 “poor”, 301-400 “very poor” and 401-500 “severe”. An index above 500 falls in the “severe-plus emergency” category.

The World Air Quality Index project, which provides realtime air quality information for more than 85 countries, showed alarming air quality levels on Sunday morning. It calculates air quality upto an index of 500 but shows higher pollutant levels as well. At 8.45 am, the air quality at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium was 905, while it was 920 in Pusa and 979 in Anand Vihar. The pollutant levels in Noida, Sector 62, and Ghaziabad were at 822 and 868.

However, the city received 0.3 millimetres rain in the past 24 hours which slightly lowered the air pollutants in the air, PTI reported. Light rains are expected later on Sunday too.

“It is unfortunate that Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal is politicising the issue of air pollution and instigating students to write a letter to Haryana and Punjab CMs to show them in bad light and present them as villains,” Javadekar tweeted. He said the problem of air pollution has been aggravated in the past 15 years and claimed it was now “effectively remedied” by the Narendra Modi government. “We have started inter-state meetings of NCR ministers and officials,” he said. “All stakeholders need to act together and not blame each other.”

“The solution to air pollution is not with a ‘switch on’ and ‘switch off’ mode,” the minister said. “It is with sustained efforts that pollution will be brought down. All the state agencies and people need to participate in this effort to combat it.”

Javadekar also criticised Kejriwal, saying: “Instead of spending Rs 1,500 crore on advertisements, the Delhi government should give it to the farmers of Punjab and Haryana to tackle pollution and acquire machines that would help in reducing pollution,” according to PTI. “Any blame game will not reduce the pollution, but efforts in the right direction will.”

Arvind Kerjiwal’s letter

In his letter to Javadekar, Kejriwal asked whether Centre had done any impact assessment on machines distributed to farmers as an alternative to stubble burning, and whether those machines worked in controlling stubble burning. “What is the total number of machines required in each of the three states to ensure complete stoppage of stubble burning,” he asked. “Why is the Centre providing these machines in yearly instalments? At this rate, in how many years will the Centre provide requisite number of machines? Will the people of Delhi continue to suffer till then?”.

The chief minister said the high level of pollution was not only a health hazard for the citizens of the country, but also portrayed India in a poor light in the eyes of visiting dignitaries. “German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Delhi for an official visit,” he wrote. I wonder what impression would she carry of India with such high levels of pollution.”

“The images of international cricketers playing cricket wearing masks does not create a good image of India,” he added. “I urge you to kindly look into the above issues. Let us all prepare a concrete, workable and time-bound plan to deal with the menace of stubble burning.”

Meanwhile, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia accused Javadekar of postponing meetings with state environment ministers thrice – on September 12, October 17 and on October 19 – and said he either he has no time or does not consider treating the national Capital’s poor air quality as a priority, PTI reported.

On Friday, air quality had breached emergency levels in the national Capital. A public health emergency was declared in the afternoon, and construction activities were banned till November 5. Schools will also remain closed till then.

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