New Delhi: As Delhiites breathed in toxic air for the fourth consecutive day Friday, 25 MPs skipped a parliamentary meeting on the capital’s horrific pollution situation.
One of them, the BJP’s Gautam Gambhir, the lone Lok Sabha member from Delhi on the panel, was widely trolled on social media with a photograph where he is seen enjoying jalebis with former cricket colleague V.V.S. Laxman in Indore Friday. Laxman had also tweeted the image.
Other MPs who missed the meeting included Hema Malini (Mathura, BJP), Imitiaz Jaleel (Aurangabad, AIMIM), Shankar Lalwani (Indore, BJP), P.C. Mohan (Bangalore Central, BJP), Hibi Eden (Ernakulam, Congress), and Ramcharan Bohra (Jaipur, BJP).
The meeting was organised by the standing committee on urban development at 11 am Friday for a “briefing by the representatives of Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs on ‘Role of Municipal Corporations of Delhi, DDA, NDMC, CPWD and NBCC in reducing air pollution in Delhi and local municipal corporation in NCR (sic)’”.
The committee altogether has 29 members, only four of whom were in attendance — panel chairman Jagdambika Pal (BJP), Sanjay Singh (Aam Aadmi Party), Hasnain Masoodi (Jammu and Kashmir National Conference), and Chandrakant Raghunath Patil (BJP).
Several civic officials invited for the briefing didn’t turn up either, including the secretary and joint secretary for environment, the vice-chairman of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), and all three commissioners of the municipal corporations of Delhi (MCD).
On account of the absences, the meeting was called off. The committee has now scheduled another meeting for 20 November.
The committee raised a strong objection to the absence of MPs and officials. Pal told ThePrint that he will raise the absence of the MPs and officials in a letter to Speaker Om Birla.
“This is ridiculous,” Pal said of the poorly-attended meeting. “The capital is battling severe pollution and officials are not concerned to appear for a meeting about it. I will write to the Speaker about this gross misconduct.”
“Those who were absent today are not just disrespecting the committee but Parliament as well,” he added.
According to rules, if a member does not attend two consecutive meetings of a committee without permission, “a motion will be brought in the house for his discharge from the committee”.
“If a member has been nominated by the Speaker, then the Speaker can drop the member from the committee,” a source in the Lok Sabha secretariat said.
Difficult to breathe in Delhi
Winter smog has become an annual occurrence in Delhi, throwing normal life out of gear for its lakhs of residents. After some respite for a few days, Delhi has once again been grappling with suffocating air — Friday marked the fourth consecutive day the air quality was recorded as “severe”.
The absence of MPs at a meeting of deep import for the capital’s residents was thus not taken kindly.
Sad to see the Parliament of India not taking the health of our children more seriously. I’ve decided to protest outside Parliament on 18 Nov, Monday to ensure that people’s voice is heard inside the temple of democracy. #ParliamentProtestonAir #RightToBreathe #NewAirAct. https://t.co/sQPT63Xpgc
— Gaurav Gogoi (@GauravGogoiAsm) November 15, 2019
Gambhir, in particular, was trolled over a viral photo of him and Laxman having jalebi, with one user noting how the “honourable MP of Delhi Gautam Gambhir had all the time to do commentary and enjoy in Indore but no time to attend the meeting of Parliamentary Standing Committee of Urban Development over severe pollution in Delhi”.
Kabhi pohe se teekhe, kabhi jalebi se meethe … wonderful start to the day in Indoor, where we had breakfast outdoor 😛 pic.twitter.com/DxIPtNqYi7
— VVS Laxman (@VVSLaxman281) November 15, 2019
Gambhir subsequently issued a statement on Twitter. “People of my constituency… will judge me by my work and not by propaganda and false narrative spread by the minions of the ‘honest CM’ of Delhi,” he said.
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 pic.twitter.com/bRyYoFB02c
— Gautam Gambhir (@GautamGambhir) November 15, 2019
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, meanwhile, said in a press statement that it did send representatives to the meeting.
“The ministry was represented by the deputy secretary and also from the Central Pollution Control Board,” the ministry added. “The joint secretary could not attend as she was to appear for an important matter in the Supreme Court. Also, detailed notes were submitted to the Ministry of Urban Development prior as was asked.”
Meanwhile, the Central Pollution Control Board told the Supreme Court Friday that the odd-even scheme in Delhi had no impact on the growing pollution in the national capital, even as the union territory administration maintained that it improved air quality by 5 per cent to 15 per cent.
With inputs from Shanker Arnimesh
This report has been updated with reactions from Pal, Gambhir and the environment ministry.