Air and water quality appears to be becoming a big issue in the upcoming Delhi Assembly elections with Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal facing heat from Union Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan over alleged failure of city tap water samples on quality parameters..
In the run-up to Assembly elections, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) seem to be slipping into troubled “waters”. Faced with repeated questioning by Union Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan over quality of tap water supply in the national capital, Delhi's ruling party has been sucked into an ugly war of words over an issue that threatens to tarnish the image of Kejriwal's governance model just before the polls.
Union minister Paswan has based his allegation about poor water quality on results of Delhi water sample testing report released by his ministry that found that the tap water supply in the national capital is unfit for drinking.
The report was junked by Kejriwal, who heads the city's water supply utility Delhi Jal Board, as he took to imputing dirty political motives to the timing of the release of the test report. To reassure Delhiites, he also reiterated that 98.5 per cent of the 1.5 lakh water samples tested by the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) between January and October this year were found to be safe.
With Kejriwal questioning the Union minister's intention behind highlighting the water sample report, Paswan accused the CM of lying. The Union minister also asked the CM to apologise for casting aspersions on the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) which had conducted the tests for his ministry. He did not stop at that and went ahead and challenged the CM to serve tap water at official meetings if he believed the water in Delhi was safe to drink.
The Kejriwal-Paswan spat could not have erupted at a more misopportune time for the ruling AAP as the city government is busy flaunting its partial success in implementation of odd-even car rationing scheme for clean air and preparing to launch 100 new mohalla clinics in the coming weeks.
Paswan, whose Dalit community members are spread across Uttar Pradesh and Uttarkhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and have a presence even in Delhi, has a decent following in the national capital and there are chances of the spat with the Bihar leader playing a game spoiler for AAP in the coming elections in pockets inhabited by Poorvanchalis.
Training his guns on Kejriwal, the political strongman from Bihar said that he shared the nationwide test's report as the head of Consumer Affairs Ministry becaue it was his duty to protect consumer interest. "Kejriwal is committing more mistakes to hide one mistake. He is levelling baseless allegations against us and lying. He is doing politics but is charging us of doing it," Paswan said, challenging the CM to set up a committee, comprising technical officers from the BIS and the Delhi Jal Board (DJB), to take samples from across 70 Assembly constituencies in Delhi and the 140 civic wards therein.
The Union ministry had recently released the second phase of the BIS study which indicated that Delhi along with Kolkata and Chennai failed in almost 10 out of 11 quality parameters for drinking water. Tests under the first phase saw collection of drinking water samples from 11 different locations across Delhi and, in the second phase, 10 samples were drawn from 10 locations of 20 state capitals.
Paswan's solo attack on Kejriwal got support from the former's Cabinet colleague Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan who alleged Delhi Chief Minister is doing politics on the issue of water quality in the city instead of addressing the core issue.
Vardhan, who was the chief ministerial candidate of the BJP in the previous Assembly elections in 2015, questioned Kejriwal's logic behind shooting the messanger in this case and questioning the credibility of the Bureau Of Indian Standards (BIS) report on the Delhi's water quality.
The report had said that drinking water in 13 cities, including Delhi, is undrinkable. But it is only the ruling party in Delhi and no other city that has questioned the BIS findings. "The BIS is an autonomous body working since Independence and it was never questioned by any political party. Water samples of 13 other cities along with Delhi failed tests, but only Kejriwal has questioned it," he said.
The negetive report on water quality has given the city units of both the Congress and the BJP a golden opportunity to pounce upon Kejriwal in election season. Newly-appointed Delhi Congress chief Subhash Chopra blamed both the city government and the Union government for causing confusing in the mind of the common man by making conflicting claims and counter claims on water quality.
"The AAP government is playing with the lives of people of Delhi by supplying poisonous water. We demand a criminal case be registered against Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal,” Chopra said, hitting out at the Union ministry of water supply at the Centre for failing the people of the national capital.
The BJP also organised protests in the city, holding samples of dirty water, and its city president Manoj Tiwari blamed Kejriwal for the poor air and water quality. “How will people live when its air and water are both polluted in city?” he asked.
Shouting slogans outside Kejriwal's residence, Tiwari alleged Kejriwal was "forcing" people to drink "polluted" water in the name of free supply. He also claimed that despite Kejriwal's promise of providing safe water to the people of Delhi since 2015, they were getting "poisonous" water. The party also put up posters across the city which called upon Kejriwal to give clean water to citizens even if that meant paying a little instead of free water up to 2KL every month. The saffron party was hitting out at the AAP government's free water scheme by linking the poor quality of supply to the Kejriwal government's suspected cost cutting measures.
On an average, each household in Delhi gets around four hours of water supply per day. The Delhi Jal Board (DJB) supplies around 935 million gallons of water per day against the demand of 1,140 MGD.
As Kejriwal's current tenure as Delhi CM nears its end, the city's air and water quality appears to be becoming a big poll plank. The air pollution issue even reverberated in Parliament where MPs questioned the gains from odd-even scheme of the city government. The ruling AAP is already involved in a pitched battled with the BJP over taking credit for the regularisation of the 1,700 unplanned and illegal colonies, with Kejriwal showcasing it as his trophy while the BJP leaders crediting the Narendra Modi government at the Centre for the people-friendly move. There are strong indications that the final 10 weeks ahead of Delhi Assembly polls are going to witness even more caustic skirmishes as basic issues related to quality of life seem set to dominate the agenda.