“This is what doomsday could look like,” writes The Times of India on the air quality in Delhi as the air quality index (AQI) touched the worst level Sunday since 2016. Such was the crisis that TOI and Hindustan Times dedicated their entire page 1 and five inside pages to various aspects of it. It is also the lead story in The Indian Express and The Hindu.
Congress’ claim that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s phone was also hacked using Isareli software Pegasus is the other big news of the day.
Delhi pollution: The Times of India: “Atmosfear: Delhi Victim of Sick Choke” is TOI’s pun headline. It notes that the AQI (US Scale) was 1065 Sunday making Delhi the most polluted city in the world. Delhi’s AQI was almost seven times more than the second most polluted city, Lahore.
The report’s opening line is dramatic:, “People in Delhi-NCR woke up to a Sunday morning that made them shudder – a grey, opaque and overwhelming smog hung in the air and the city’s vast landscape had disappeared under its sweep”. In TOI’s ‘Times View’ box, it writes “Governments at the Centre and in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and UP need to start behaving as if they recognise that the NCR is facing a monumental public health emergency.”
Hindustan Times: The daily is more morbid in its headline, “Capital Punishment” it writes. It reports that the AQI was 494 Sunday with PM2.5 levels touching 992, “16 times the safe limit”. It focuses on the “blame game” politicians are playing: “The national capital was engulfed by a dense, noxious smog that… made residents rue the failure of both – leaders engaged in a blame game and experts whose best-laid plans came to nought”.
HT also explains the increased toxicity — the air quality “turned more toxic… because of the formation of ‘secondary particles’, which are much more potent in terms of toxicity than particulate matter”. It features boxed explanations of the 50m layer of haze and smog.
The Indian Express: The daily concentrates on the steps being taken by the government: “Capital air crosses severe level, PMO steps in, Centre to monitor”. It reports, “A statement released by the PMO said that the Cabinet Secretary will be monitoring the situation” in Delhi, Haryana and Punjab on a daily basis.
In a Page 1 ground report, it visited Sangrur in Punjab that recorded “the highest number of farm fires in a single day this year”. It notes that farmers are battling gaps in government’s subsidy cover and that “the mood on the ground is a mix of denial and helplessness”.
The Hindu: As always, the headline is more straightforward: “Delhi chokes as air pollution levels hit a three-year-high”. It concentrates on the social media reaction in its lead paragraph and writes, “(It’s)… prompting hundreds of distraught people to take to social media to say they wanted to leave the city”.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra: The Congress claimed that its leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra “had received a text message from WhatsApp alerting her to a possible privacy breach about a month ago”, writes The Hindu. It adds that Congress also levied “serious allegations against the Narendra Modi-led NDA government” saying that “citizens, journalists and Opposition leaders were spied upon in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections”.
TOI and HT carry BJP’s response to the allegations. TOI writes that the allegations set off a “war of words with BJP saying ‘Congress leaders had a record of making exaggerated claims’”. HT reports, “The ruling BJP hit back, saying Congress was ‘imagining things’ that do not exist”.
The Hindu: In ‘Pegasus misadventure’, Hindu writes that the government “must clarify” whether it deployed Israeli spyware to “snoop on its critics”. The government reaction to WhatsApp’s revelation that Indian journalists and activists were spied upon is “inadequate”. It is a “chilling reminder” that nothing is private in a digital world. A “malicious” code called Pegasus was used to hack select WhatsApp users. But the question is — who directed the hack?
The daily specifies why this question is important: Firstly, this was not about money. Secondly, the Israeli NSO group admits on its website that it sells its products only to government agencies to fight “crime and terror”. Three, those targeted include civil rights activists, lawyers and journalists — some of whom represented activists in the 2018 Bhima Koregaon case. The government should send a “strong” message on privacy, in keeping with the 2017 Supreme Court judgment declaring it to be a fundamental right, and clarify whether any governmental agency used NSO’s services, it writes.
The Times of India: In “Gas chamber politics”, TOI writes that the 25 per cent rise in stubble burning in Punjab “exposes many defects” in the governments’ response to air pollution. The public health emergency declared in Delhi-NCR — projected to have 64 million residents by 2021 including 23 districts in three states — should have elicited a “proportionate and coordinated” policy response.
Instead, it has led to divisive political responses — Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal blaming Punjab and Haryana governments for forcing farmers to burn stubble, and BJP’s Prakash Javadekar claiming that money spent on the AAP government ads could have channeled to farmer alternatives. Penalising farmers is ineffective, writes TOI. Punjab’s success in mechanising agriculture shows that farmers could be persuaded to shun “primitive burning” for machines like super straw management systems and happy seeders. Governments should subsidise these machines, offer lease-rent-purchase options, and stop promoting paddy cultivation in water-stressed areas, it adds.
Delhi’s “gas chamber” made headlines on news channels Sunday.
NDTV 24×7 reported the Centre’s high-level meet on #AirEmergency; Times Now gave an explainer on protection mechanisms; Republic TV attacked the political blame-game between parties on the public health emergency in North India, and India Today had a “Bizarre Pollution Care” solution: BJP UP Minister Sunil Bharala, in all seriousness, suggested performing a yagnato please the rain gods.
However, late afternoon news that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s WhatsApp had been allegedly hacked stole the headlines away from Delhi’s noxious air fumes.
News18: Anchor Pallavi Ghosh discussed Congress claims on Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
BJP IT head Amit Malviya said, “The Congress party is fishing for relevance as they don’t have any substantive issues…”
Pointing a finger at the government, Abhishek Manu Singhvi of the Congress said, “The Israeli firm has said that they charge Rs 6 crore to hack 10 numbers. Who do you think has the money to pay for this kind of hacking and who is beneficiary of this?”
NDTV 24×7: On ‘We the People’, Gargi Rawat debated if the internet is a threat to democracy, in view of the WhatsApp controversy and the government’s proposal to issue guidelines for social media in three months.
Govind Etiharaj, founder of FactChecker.in and BOOM, said, “Yes, there is perhaps a need for some sort of regulation… However, I would like to highlight two main things. First, the government is going after a set of people who have been defined as anti-national. Secondly, these regulations cannot be cast-in-stone, as technology will evolve, so will policy.”
Naresh Arora of Congress said, “Platforms need to be held accountable for the information they share… And yes, regulations do need to be put in place but not at the cost of curtailing free speech.”
Aaj Tak: The tussle between Shiv Sena and BJP in Maharashtra over government formation was discussed on the show ‘Dangal’.
Shiv Sena’s Vijay Krishnan alleged that BJP had broken its promise. “We are willing to give a good government… But BJP isn’t saying anything in the past 10 days.”
BJP’s Shahnawaz Hussain dismissed the accusations, saying there were no talks on a 50-50 formula. “Did anybody hear about this formula before the election? No.”
Congress’s Sanjay Nirupam said he personally did not favour supporting the Shiv Sena: “We want to know who is lying between the Shiv Sena and BJP. If the President’s Rule is imposed in the state, then both parties will be responsible.”