Delhi Election

Only a month ago, pollution levels in the Capital breached all records yet again. Photo: Livemint

Delhi Election: Are parties serious about tackling air pollution? Here’s what you need to know

Delhi will vote a new government into power on Saturday after weeks of vicious poll campaigning that turned increasingly slanderous, forcing the Election Commission to ban some leaders from canvassing. But what are the issues that will finally matter to the voters? Lack of jobs, healthcare, education, water, electricity, and public transport come to mind. But the one issue that has become a matter of life and death for Delhiites is toxic air. Only a month ago, pollution levels in the Capital breached all records yet again. It is one of the top priorities for all three contesting parties – the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress (INC) – in their manifestos. But how seriously are the parties invested in the issue? 

United Residents Joint Action (URJA), comprising over 2,500 Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) in Delhi, had released a People’s Green Manifesto 2020 in December 2019, presenting the parties with key demands to address the issue of air pollution by 2025. CarbonCopy compared the manifestos of each party with the People’s Green Manifesto to see which demands have been included. Of a total of 25 main demands, AAP addressed only four, BJP 10 and Congress included 15 demands from the people’s manifesto with the most concrete, comprehensive and reliable promises. To get a better idea, let’s look at party positions on some key demands.

On the demand of Public Transport for 80% Population, while AAP and BJP promised 11,000 and 10,000 buses respectively, the Congress manifesto matched most of the People’s Green Manifesto demands, including a Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority for coordinated planning of all modes of transport, a review of bus routes and numbers for easy access to commuters, the procuring of 15,000 buses, a promise that every residential/commercial area will be within walking distance of public transport or on-call e-rickshaws for first/last mile connectivity, ensuring footpaths, lifts, escalators have inter-mode connectivity to public transport, and the appointment of a commuter-government committee to review the quality and utility of public transport and first/last mile connectivity.

On the demand of Protecting Citizens from Pollution and Risks, AAP offered a pollution-free Delhi with at least 3 times reduction in air pollution, but gave no assurance of ensuring pollution levels don’t reach severe levels in 2020-25. There was no reference to a healthcare budget and services for the exposed population, no provision of personal protection equipment to workers, traffic police, vendors and the homeless in highly polluted areas and no assurance of a public information system at the ward-level for mass advisories and casualty data related to air pollution.

The BJP promised healthcare services in government hospitals for environmental illnesses, environmental health courses in schools and colleges to help build awareness; a reliance on large-scale and expensive air purification equipment, even though their effectiveness has not been proven, barriers in schools for air pollution, even though they remain untested for effectiveness, and pollution monitoring equipment on all street light poles. But there was no specific target mentioned for reduction in air pollution to meet national air quality standards by 2025. There was also no assurance of preventing pollution from reaching severe levels in 2020-25.

The Congress pledged to dedicate 25% of Delhi’s budget to fight pollution, strengthen the Delhi Pollution Control Committee with staff, equipment, training and funds to adhere to the best global practices in pollution control and reduction, and chalk out clear and coordinated instructions to the local administration. The party’s manifesto also promised to adhere to the guidelines of the Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (EPCA) set up by the Supreme Court to reduce pollution. Students will be encouraged to volunteer as Environment Ambassadors. But the party offered no specific target for reduction in air pollution to meet national air quality standards by 2025, and no assurance to avoid pollution from reaching severe levels in 2020-25.

On Delhi & Neighbours Tackling Pollution Together, while the BJP and AAP said nothing, the Congress manifesto said the party will introduce an inter-state coordination mechanism at the level of chief secretaries of NCT Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, UP, Rajasthan, and Uttarakhand for a Regional Common Minimum Air-shed Programme on air pollution action plan enforcement and the National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB) to effect convergence in economic, infrastructure and social development for transport, roads, electricity, industries, land use, forests, etc.

On the issue of Clean and Smart 21st Century Vehicles (EVs)Congress matched all demands. Its manifesto promised that its entire Rs1,100 crore ECC fund will be spent to make Delhi the EV city of India through Delhi Electric Vehicles Initiative (DEVI), 15,000 electric zero pollution buses will replace existing buses in a phased manner, 1,000 or more charging stations will be built in dispersed locations from DISCOMs, vendors, etc, financial incentives will be introduced for EVs to compete with conventional vehicles that will help 6/10 buyers willing to switch to EVs, as per a Deloitte survey, and all government vehicle procurement from 2021 will be electric. The manifesto also promised an increase in ambition of Delhi’s EV policy to 50% for all new vehicle registrations in 2025 in order to reduce pollution, incentives and the building of dedicated infrastructure to large fleet owners to procure/convert to EVs, setting up of local centres for batteries. The party also promised to overhaul the PUC system to test all vehicles on real-world driving emissions for all key pollutants.

Both AAP and BJP missed most of the demands, including the demand to include all pollutants in petrol/diesel vehicles PUC test. The BJP promised incentives to electric vehicles and the setting up of charging stations without targets, efforts to reduce the use of petrol and diesel vehicles and an increase in CNG stations. AAP launched Delhi’s Electric Vehicles Policy in December 2019 to achieve 25% share for EVs in new registrations by 2023. Its manifesto also promised a system of fee and rebate to facilitate the transition from conventional vehicles to electric.

On the demand of Roadmap for Zero Waste & Biomass Burning in Delhi, all three parties, AAP, BJP, Congress, made no mention of zero tolerance to garbage burning or of existing landfills management. The Congress promised that state government offices will lead the city by generating Zero Waste by 2025. The party also promised incentives and guidelines for large institutions and companies to generate Zero Waste by 2025, a campaign to ensure 100% segregation at household level in two years, and the introduction of biomethanation plants at vegetable & fruit wholesale markets and large institutions.

AAP is seeking a second term in the Capital, but what was its performance in its first term? A CarbonCopy analysis shows the government did not declare a public health emergency even when air quality in the Capital crossed hazardous limits on several occasions. It promised to achieve 14% solar energy for Delhi, but could manage only 3%. It did fulfil the promise of regular power supply, but its promise to reduce private cars remained unfulfilled as the number of cars has only increased. AAP promised water harvesting and Yamuna clean up, neither of which was achieved. Incentives to CNG and EVs were only provided at the very end of its term in 2019. AAP also promised to add 5,000 new buses, but ended up with a fall in the total number of buses, to less than 6,000.

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