POLITICS
16/11/2019 8:34 AM IST | Updated 16/11/2019 8:34 AM IST

AAP Minister Satyendar Jain On Combating Delhi Pollution, 2020 Elections And Mohalla Clinics

Delhi minister talks about the steps Arvind Kejriwal government has taken to better air quality and AAP's strategy for the upcoming Assembly elections.

The India Today Group via Getty Images
File image of Satyendar Jain.

Despite a high-profile campaign that included Gul Panag and Swara Bhasker, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won just one seat in the Lok Sabha elections. It failed to emerge even as the second largest party and finished in third place. This led some to believe that AAP’s support base in Delhi had declined and the party needed to course correct. (see here and here

Party chief Arvind Kejriwal’s dreams of country-wide success, in the last few assembly polls and the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, have largely remained unfulfilled. It has failed to get the kind of support it has found in Delhi in other parts of India. In the Punjab bypolls, AAP’s vote share was down to 5% and its candidates lost their security deposits. Even in the recently-concluded Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly elections, the party got less votes than even the NOTA option. Apart from Delhi, AAP has one MP and 20 MLAs in Punjab.

The party has also seen many well known faces leave and public spats among party leaders since the 2013 Assembly Elections. Atishi lost to BJP’s Gautam Gambhir in the Lok Sabha elections and even Panag, who had contested 2014 parliamentary polls as AAP candidate, had lost in Chandigarh

As the 2020 Delhi assembly polls approach, AAP leader and Delhi cabinet minister Satyendar Jain seems unperturbed by any of this. He told Huffpost India in an interview that Delhi had already chosen its chief minister, and there was no candidate better than Kejriwal.  

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As Delhi continues to grapple with “severe” air quality, pollution has already become a poll issue. While the AAP continues to blame the Centre for not taking concrete steps, the BJP has jumped at the opportunity with Manoj Tiwari promising to make Delhi pollution-free if voted to power. 

Responding to criticism (see here and here) that his government hasn’t done much to resolve Delhi’s severe air pollution problem, Jain — who holds the portfolios of Health, Home, Power, and Urban Development — said the laser show on Diwali and the ban on open waste burning were all part of steps the AAP government took to curb air pollution. 

In an interview with Huffpost India, Jain elaborated on what the Delhi government had done to check air pollution, AAP’s campaign strategy for the 2020 assembly polls and the freebies (free bus rides and free electricity up to 200 units) that the government has rolled out. 

Edited excerpts: 

What steps has the Delhi government taken throughout the year to combat air pollution? The air quality has again reached “severe” category and one of the criticisms of the party has been that the steps only begin in October-November. 

The Delhi government has, in the last four-five years, taken a lot of measures. Generators, run using fossil fuels — gasoline and diesel — which are known for releasing pollutants, have been shut down because we made electricity available to the public 24*7. We have also made it mandatory for construction sites and materials to be covered by tarpaulin. We have banned open [waste] burning and the four-day laser show on Diwali was also part of the efforts to reduce pollution and convey to the public that Diwali can be celebrated without crackers. 

Ten power plants near Delhi are set to miss their pollution control deadlines Is your government seeking cooperation from other states to ensure pollution control devices are installed in these plants?  

We have closed both the power plants in Delhi — Rajghat and Badarpur. Delhi is the only state in the country with no power plant. Central government is more equipped to answer questions about power plants in other states. In my opinion, the Dadri power plant (which is in Uttar Pradesh) should definitely be closed and that would significantly improve Delhi’s air quality. That is a major contributor to Delhi’s pollution.  

Arvind Kejriwal has said that the odd-even scheme may be extended if required. But a lot of studies have shown that it has actually done nothing to better the air quality. (see here and here)

Some say the pollution comes down by 20% when the scheme is in place, others say the impact is just about 2%. It may be a small step but it’s a step in the right direction. Reducing all sources of pollution becomes necessary when AQI is at its peak.   

Around 1 November, hospitals reported a surge in patients with breathing problems. Are your mohalla clinics equipped to handle these cases?

We [mohalla clinics] handle the basic cases, but refer the serious ones to the hospitals.  

How did the idea of mohalla clinics come up and how was it executed?

The concept of a mohalla clinic is a clinic in your neighbourhood. Even if Delhi government has a free hospital, the problem is accessibility. People would need a vehicle to travel. Mohalla clinics aim to make healthcare accessible to people near their homes. Health for all and accessible to all. 

How did you manage to get the land (which Centre controls) for the clinics?

Apart from land, we have no other problems. We are trying to rent places now and open clinics. It takes about five to six years to make a dispensary in Delhi and, before we came to power, only about one or two dispensaries were opened in Delhi on an average in a year. We cannot work at this speed and decided to instead use porta cabins. It only takes two-three months now and the cost is also significantly less. We used our knowledge as architects and bureaucrats to save public resources.  

What will be the focus areas of the party’s campaign for the Assembly elections? 

Till now, elections have been fought on politics. We want to fight these elections only and only on the strength of our work. If they vote for work, they will get even more work in the next five years. People voted for politics in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi elections and are suffering the consequences of having to wait months for their work to get done.

The India Today Group via Getty Images
Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and minister Satyendar Jain inaugurate a mohalla clinic at Sarai Kale Khan in New Delhi.

Could you specify the areas of work or the departments that the party will put on the forefront in the polls?  

The public knows what work we have done. The issue is, do they want to vote for work or for politics? We have made mohalla clinics and brought in the farishtey [Farishte Delhi Ke] scheme. We also get all the MRI and CT scans done for free. Our government has made 24 hours electricity a reality.

[Ed — Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal launched the ‘Farishte Dilli Ke’ scheme in October this year. Under the scheme, the government will incur the treatment expenditure of eligible road accident victims and also give incentives to those who take them to the hospital.]

Certain reports have suggested that BJP may attack AAP on freebies — free bus rides, metro rides and power among others.How will you counter them? 

Political parties are fooling the people. Today, every MP gets 4,000 units of electricity free every month — and they are opposing free electricity for the drivers and maids who work at their homes. They have a problem if their driver gets even 200 units free? Why are they not opposing the free 4,000 units they have been getting all these years. These are the double standards. In their opinion, tax payers’ money is for their netas and not for the people. 

We have neither imposed any new tax on the public nor taken a loan. We have only returned the public’s money back to them. Nothing is free, everything is prepaid. You have paid for all the schemes through the taxes. 

BJP is mainly opposed to two things — buses and power. Even water. Actually there are five things — free medicine, education, power, water and bus rides. If developed countries can have free education and healthcare, why can’t we?

Gujarat’s chief minister just bought a private jet for Rs 191 crore and our free bus rides scheme costs Rs 140 crore. Should we buy a jet for the chief minister or make the bus travel free? What is a freebie? Is the jet a freebie or free rides for the public?

Will the party change its election strategy? AAP finished third in the Lok Sabha elections.  

It’s usually said that the people of Delhi make the Central and state government. Most people in Delhi say they choose who the prime minister should be. It’s a matter of pride for them — whoever they will choose will form the government at the Centre. 

The BJP or Congress were in the race for the prime minister’s post, we were on the sidelines. The public did not vote for us because we weren’t in the race. But for Assembly elections, it’s clear that there is no candidate better than Arvind Kejriwal for the chief minister’s post. 

Who came up with the ‘I love Kejriwal’ campaign?

The people started it. Two-three auto drivers started it and then it just spread organically. This is a people-led campaign. 

The cases of dengue have increased in the last two weeks. 230 cases were reported in one week. 

This is the fag end. This is almost finished. This is the end of the dengue season. 

But what steps has the government taken?

In 2016, the Delhi government established a dedicated dengue control cell to conduct dengue prevention related activities. High-risk areas were identified and shared with local bodies to take necessary preventive measures in those areas. Compared to 2015, there’s been an 80% decline in the cases.