As Delhi choked with an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 458, the fourth consecutive day when air quality breached the “severe” category, the parliamentary committee on urban development was forced to defer its meeting on air pollution in Delhi-NCR because most Members of Parliament and heads of civic and infrastructure agencies simply didn’t turn up.
When contacted, they said they were busy at other events.
The job of the parliamentary committee on urban development, which has 29 members, is to carry out a detailed scrutiny of urban infrastructure and housing related issues. The meeting scheduled on Friday was for MPs to be briefed by the representatives of the ministry of housing and urban affairs on the role of the municipal corporations of Delhi, Delhi Development Authority, Central Public Works Department and National Buildings Construction Corporation in reducing air pollution in Delhi and NCR, according to the Lok Sabha website. It was an opportunity for elected representatives from around the country to grill various agencies on the poor air in the capital.
The deferment of the meeting snowballed into a political slug fest with Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) members accusing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members of not taking it seriously.
AAP spokesperson Raghav Chadha, tweeted: “This shows criminal negligence and apathy towards air pollution issue. All these bureaucrats should be suspended with immediate effect and proceedings should be initiated against BJP MPs who bunked.”
Gautam Gambhir, BJP MP from Delhi, who skipped the meeting, tweeted: “My work will speak for itself! P.S Agar mujhe gaali dene se Dilli ka pollution kam hoga to AAP jee bhar ke gaali dijiye cc: Trolls (If slamming me helps solve Delhi’s air pollution then please do so wholeheartedly). In a tweet by former cricketer, VVS Laxman, Gambhir was seen eating jalebis for breakfast in Indore on Friday.
Jagadambika Pal, committee chairman, said he did not want to comment on why it was cancelled.His office later said about six MPs attended but commissioners of MCDs, heads of DDA and DJB didn’t attend the meet.
South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) Commissioner, Gyanesh Bharti, said: “It was the budget presentation for the coming financial year (2020-21) in South MCD today, and I had to be here (in the Standing Committee meeting of the Corporation) to do that.” The EDMC Commissioner, Dilraj Kaur, said, “I am unwell and hence couldn’t attend.” North municipality commissioner, Varsha Joshi, said: “I am at a session on walkability at the Urban Mobility Conference at Lucknow, which the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) vice chairman is chairing.”
CK Mishra, secretary, ministry of environment, said: “They had asked us for some inputs, which we have given them. I am away for some work.”
A senior DJB official said: “We had a pre-scheduled board meeting today, which cannot take place without the CEO. We had deputed officers for the Centre’s meeting.” DDA vice chairman, Tarun Kapoor, said: “I’m in Lucknow for the urban mobility conference organised by the housing and urban affairs ministry. DDA’s engineering member and commissioner planning had gone for the meeting on my behalf.”
MPs also had similar excuses.
“Unfortunately, I could not attend the meeting today. There was another meeting in my constituency,” said Abdul Majeed Ariff, a CPI(M) MP from Alappuzha, Kerala.
“I am sorry, I could not attend the meeting, I had some event in my constituency in Kerala,” said Behanan Benny, Congress MP from Chalakudy, Kerala.
“I was out of Delhi, the mother of one of our party members passed away and I had to go for the last rites,” said Ramcharan Bohra, BJP MP from Jaipur, Rajasthan. “I was there, but there was no meeting. Only four of the 29 members, including the chairperson, were present. Even the officers from the MCD, NDMC, none of the commissioners or even representative from the ministry of environment were present. The subject and the agenda had been notified earlier. It was well known but we don’t know why people did not turn up,” said Hasnain Masoodi, National Conference MP from Anantnag, Jammu and Kashmir.
“We were informed about this discussion on pollution just four or five days back, but the event in my constituency had been planned long ago. Also, if the matter was so important, why not discuss it on November 18, when everybody would have been in Delhi. Not everybody lives in Delhi or in cities like Kanpur nearby. I would have had travel to Delhi for today’s meeting, come back on the 16th and then head back to Delhi on the 17th. My constituency will not have me for a month, I need to finish all my work here. You are in Delhi so for you the matter of pollution is of paramount importance, for me the problems of my constituency are of paramount importance,” said Kalyan Banerjee, MP from Serampore, West Bengal.
A senior official of the CPCB said he sent a junior official as the rest were busy with a SC case.
The Lok Sabha secretariat had on November 8 issued a notice, alerting members about the meeting.
“This indifference is unfortunate. Health emergency of this magnitude calls for their immediate attention and engagement to prioritise and drive solutions,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment.
(With inputs from Vatsala Shrangi, Risha Chitlangia, Baishali Adak)