NEW DELHI: Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan said today that the Centre was taking steps to reduce vehicle emissions and promote green mobility, and attacked the Delhi government for not taking steps to deal with the rising air pollution in the National Capital Region (NCR).
Vardhan said the Union government was doing its best to reduce pollution levels but there was a need to create a mass movement involving people from all walks of life, including the youth.
"Government of India is doing its best what can be done regarding the matter. The work done in last three years is more than what has been done earlier," he said, replying to a debate in the Rajya Sabha on the air pollution situation.
The pollution levels did not touch the severe category on 214 days this year, compared to 181 days in 2016, due to the proactive steps taken by the central government, he said.
He said while the Centre was working to tackle the problem, the Delhi government has lacked in taking proactive measures to combat the problem.
"There are certain critical issues like water sprinkling to curtail air pollution. Likewise, landfill sites are not being maintained properly," Vardhan said criticising Delhi's Arvind Kejriwal government.
He said the Delhi government was not following guidelines to manage solid waste and dust mitigation.
Earlier today, participating in the debate, Rajiv Shukla of the Congress said heavy vehicles should be taxed more in order to discourage people from buying such models.
"The money generated through such measures should be diverted into strengthening public transport," he said.
Cutting across the party lines, Rajya Sabha members sought concerted efforts by the government to deal with rising pollution levels in Delhi and its adjoining areas.
The members also asked the government to refrain from putting the blame on farmers for causing pollution by burning stubble or husk after harvest and suggested steps to help the farmers for proper disposals of this agriculture residue.
Initiating a short duration discussion, SP leader Naresh Agarwal said, "farmers are blamed for causing pollution by burning stubble/husk. The government should take steps to deal with the situation rather than blaming farmers because of vehicle /industrial emissions and others area also the reasons for it." Referring to the 12-point charter unveiled by the government to deal with the issue, Agarwal said that pollution will not come down just because the government would give directions to states or departments.
He expressed unhappiness over the non-spending of Rs 800 crore cess collected in the name of the environment by the Delhi government as it said it does not have the right to spend the money.
Agarwal said the government should not refrain from taking steps to curb pollution because of fear of media criticism.
T S Reddy (Congress) also expressed dissatisfaction over the government's 12-point charter to deal with the issue, saying he wanted to understand the 12 points charter. He drew attention towards solid waste management saying garbage was being dumped in an improper manner.
Referring to the government's plan to use electric cars for officials, he said there was a need for an electric public transport system, including buses and metro rail, to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
He was also of the view that the state governments of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan should take steps to deal with stubble burning after harvest.
A Navaneethakrishnan (AIADMK) also echoed similar views and asked the chair to consider conducting Parliament session in winters in Chennai where pollution levels are low.
Derek O Brien (TMC) said a large number of lives have been lost due to pollution and suggested that the government should also look at other metropolitans and small town to deal with the problem there.
He suggested that the government can ask people to plant one sapling on the birth of every girl child as practiced in West Bengal, where 15 lakh saplings have been planted.
Prasanna Acharya ((BJD) and Harivansh (JDU) expressed similar views and asked the government to take steps to deal with the problem, instead of blaming farmers.
C P Narayanan (CPI-M) said people of Delhi were suffering from pollution due to lack of coordination among the Centre, state governments and local government. He also spoke about the need to educate people on waste management.
Veer Singh (BSP) suggested that industrial units should be shifted from the national capital and action should be taken against big farmers for burning crop residues.
D Raja of the CPI said air pollution was a health issue and was not limited to Delhi alone and suggested that public transport should be encouraged and massive efforts should be taken to shift towards cleaner fuel. Raja said farmers should be given subsidy for adopting to new technology to re- plough crop residues in the field.
INLD member Ram Kumar Kashyap said trees should be planted to tackle pollution, while Pratap Singh Bajwa (Congress) urged political parties to make Delhi liveable by forgetting their differences. On crop residue burning, he said farmers would have to incur additional cost to remove residues and they should be adequately compensated.
Satyanarayan Jatia (BJP) said pollution levels have increased and there was a need to find a solution, while Kanimozhi (DMK) said the pollution problem was not only in Delhi but also in other cities of the country. Many cities of Tamil Nadu were facing similar situation because of industrial pollution, she said, adding that emission norms should be adhered to.
The DMK member said farmers should be given alternate choice so that they stop burning of crop residues. The government should not intervene and help farmers, she said.