Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party on Friday accused Bharatiya Janata Party MP Gautam Gambhir of choosing “enjoyment” over a Parliamentary panel’s meeting to discuss high pollution levels in the national Capital.
Only four of the 29 MPs on the Standing Committee on Urban Development turned up for the meeting on Friday, NDTV reported. The meeting was cancelled because three commissioners of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the vice-chairperson of Delhi Development Authority, and the secretary and joint secretary of environment did not turn up either.
Around an hour before the meeting was scheduled, former cricketer VVS Laxman tweeted a picture of him having breakfast with Gambhir in Indore. Gambhir, the MP from East Delhi and a member of the panel, retweeted the picture. Both former cricketers are in Indore as commentators for an ongoing Test match.
The Aam Aadmi Party then tweeted that Delhi was choking but Gambhir was “busy enjoying” in Indore. The party said the MP should come to Delhi and attend meetings on air pollution instead.
“While MPs like Gautam Gambhir are busy enjoying, AAP Rajya Sabha MP [Sanjay Singh] ATTENDED the Parliament standing committee’s meeting...” the party said, asking Gambhir if this was “the level of your seriousness” on air pollution.
These tweets were posted as a response to Gambhir’s tweet on November 1 accusing Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal of merely holding press conferences, without paying much heed to pollution-related matters.
The standing committee has taken serious note of the absence of the officials. Union Minister Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar said he will investigate the matter of absent MPs and take action.
In the evening, the environment ministry clarified that some of its officials were present during the aborted meeting, while one, the joint secretary, was busy in a crucial Supreme Court hearing, PTI reported. A spokesperson said the ministry was represented by the deputy secretary and Central Pollution Control Board officials at the event. “Also, detailed notes were submitted to the Ministry of Urban Development prior, as was asked,” he added.
Gambhir defends himself
Later in the day, Gambhir defended himself in a statement he released on his Twitter account. “My commitment to my constituency and my city should be judged by the work that is happening there,” he said. “From getting high-end compost machines installed for cleaning Ghazipur landfill to reforming EDMC schools by providing digital classes and infrastructure, to installing sanitary pad vending machines for the benefit of women and providing free food for the poor, I have left no stone unturned in the past six months in ensuring that people who voted for me get the best.”
Gambhir said he intends to do a lot more for his constituency in the next 4.5 years. “I sit in my constituency office in East Delhi from 11 am and leave only when all the people who have come are assured that their grievances have been addressed,” he said. “I have even pledged my salary as an MP to get things done which do not come under the ambit of MPLAD funds as they are earmarked for macro-level things.”
The cricketer-turned-politician added that he did not enter politics “to make money”, but added that he has a family to support. “I believe in hard-earned money and not using public money to further my political ambitions,” he said, adding that the AAP was making his commercial engagements an issue “to mask the incompetence and political greed of their leader” Arvind Kejriwal. This was the “saddest thing that the party, which claims to represent honest people, could do”, he added.
Pollution levels in Delhi
The Union Ministry of Earth Sciences’ SAFAR, or System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research, which provides real-time data on pollution levels, said that the Air Quality Index in Delhi at 4.10 pm was 540 – in the “severe-plus emergency” category.
The air quality in North India has worsened since the last week of October. Earlier this month, a public health emergency was declared as the air quality plummeted to hazardous levels. Several students appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, on the occasion of Children’s Day, to take steps to ensure they breathe clean air.
On Friday, the Supreme Court said that the states of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have failed to take effective steps to combat rising pollution. The top court observed that the odd-even road rationing scheme in Delhi could have been effective in reducing pollution in the national Capital if no exemptions were provided under its rules, but said it was not a long-term solution.