OPN Delhi pollution
Delhi pollution: Air quality plunged into 'Poor' category and overall AQI stood at 249 on Thursday, Nov 17 Image Credit: Gulf News

When in 2016 the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi imposed odd-even car rationing to reduce air pollution, I was surprised to see how much support it got.

People who did not like the AAP or its leaders one bit were all gung-ho about leaving their cars behind and using public transport. They felt great that they were doing their bit to reduce air pollution.

I could not find a single person other than myself who was opposing the idea. I remember feeling silly arguing with a group of enthusiastic schoolchildren on a TV show.

I insisted odd-even won’t work and no, I wasn’t a car owner. The children had been cleverly roped in as volunteers by the AAP government. The exploitation of children’s innocence and energy by politicians makes me sad.

The AAP as usual sent its nasty trolls after me, claimed victory on days when wind conditions reduced air pollutions and asked people to have patience with the scheme when air pollution actually increased.

They knew they can’t make people keep their cars at home for long, so the car rationing would come and go in small bouts, about 2-3 times in the last few years.

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Arvind Kejriwal often resorts to a lavish PR campaign to make his government look good Image Credit: ANI

Everyone understands the “odd even” car rationing was a failure but nobody wants to admit they were all wrong. Every winter some reporter asks Arvind Kejriwal and their ministers whether odd-even will be back, and they sincerely reply that they will ‘consider’ it. We keep breathing poison and the AAP never brings back a scheme it said was super successful.

Super successful it was, politically speaking. It helped the AAP fool the people of Delhi into thinking: ‘Kejriwal is trying’, or, even better, ‘we the people are the problem. We who drive cars. What can Kejriwal do?’

Billions of tax payers’ rupees were wasted in advertising the AAP’s failure to sell it as an achievement. The car-owning Delhi, perhaps the least likely to vote for AAP, was impressed, as was the working class that was still adding to pollution with motorcycles and wood fires for cooking and keeping warm.

You can’t tell them to not do that, which is why we need a government to solve complex governance problems. Instead we have a chief minister who only thinks about the next campaign slogan to go with his face on advertisements.

More by Shivam Vij

More failure = more advertising

Kejriwal has repeated the formula every winter for 6 years now. Every year he has some new “idea” that is clearly not going to work but a lot of money is wasted on advertising it so that there may be no political fallout of toxic air on Kejriwal’s political fortunes. The falsehoods of the so-called “Delhi model of governance” must be maintained with the Delhi model of propaganda.

It’s the same story with “smog towers” which are like installing a water filter in the ocean. It’s the same story with water guns, cloud seeding, vacuum cleaning of roads, even planting more grass to stop dust from flying around. The greater the failure, the greater the advertising.

Mind you, it is not just the people of Delhi who are subjected to this propaganda blitzkrieg. Delhi taxpayer’s money is used to advertise across India, in the smallest of regional papers. After all, how else will Kejriwal become prime minister?

All chief ministers, all state governments spend on advertising. But the AAP government has absolutely no sense of proportion when it comes to wasting taxpayers’ money on advertising Kejriwal’s hollow achievements.

For example, Newslaundry, a news website, found that the Delhi government spent Rs6.8 million in 2 years on “stubble decomposers” but Rs230 million to advertise it.

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Paddy stubble is burnt in Punjab to clear the field ahead of the sowing of the rabi crop, compounding the air pollution crisis Image Credit: AFP

This bio-composer is a spray that decomposes stubble residue in paddy fields. The only problem is that farmers don’t have the number of days it takes to work.

They have to plant the next crop. This has been known from day one. But it didn’t prevent Arvind Kejriwal from wasting millions on advertising this ‘idea’, saying he was doing this in the few farms around Delhi, and wondering why the Punjab government wasn’t doing the same.

What did Punjab do for 6 months?

In March this year, the Punjab government went from the Congress to the AAP hands. The AAP with a 2/3rd majority in Punjab wasn’t able to give this bio decomposer to Punjab’s farmers. Why? Arvind Kejriwal has no answers.

The AAP came to power in Punjab in March and has had many months to plan for the pollution season. What did the Punjab government do to plan for pollution season in the last 6 months? Kejriwal’s ads won’t tell you because they did nothing. They were busy planning a national expansion to support his prime ministerial ambitions.

Now that Kejriwal can’t blame the Punjab government, he blames the central government. But nobody asks why Haryana, which actually shares its borders with Delhi, has fewer farm fires than Punjab. Again, a Newslaundry report shames the Punjab government.

As someone who has friends and relatives suffering from lung problems, the report made me very angry about the AAP’s failures. The report shows how Punjab hasn’t bought enough machines to remove the stubble so that farmers don’t have to set it on fire. Haryana has.

Unlike Haryana, the Punjab government isn’t willing to give financial incentives to farmers to not burn the stubble. Even on law enforcement, Haryana is more willing to be tough on farmers than Punjab.

The Punjab government isn’t willing to put its money where its mouth is. There is a simple solution to this. How about the Delhi and Punjab governments spending less money on ads that trumpet their alleged achievements?

Some of that money could be used to save our lungs and lives.