The problem with the efforts afoot to solve Delhi-NCR’s pollution woes is that while they are high on optics and are peppered with the catchiest of slogans, they are not even remotely linked to the problem. Consider, for example the most recent ban on fire crackers by the Supreme Court. It seemed like an excellent thing to do to cut down on crackers which, undeniably contribute to the pollution in the city. The move was hailed as revolutionary and a lot of citizens willingly or otherwise complied with the Supreme Court’s orders. The quality of air post diwali, was much better than last year when Delhiites woke up to near blindness and a persisting choking sensation. Sadly though, the killer smog has returned to Delhi with a vengeance. Over the last two days, air quality has been so poor that it has prompted Delhi’s Chief Minister, whose favourite job seems to be reviewing movies, to label Delhi a gas chamber. Suffice it to say, that the Supreme Court’s directive banning sale and purchase of crackers during Diwali is a classic example of ‘Kahin pe nigahein, kahin pe nishana’.
Another example of initiatives that are high on optics, but low on impact is the Odd-Even scheme which was launched with much gusto last year. It was touted as the panacea that would cure Delhi’s Air Quality woes once and for all. Despite misgivings, most Delhiites cooperated with the initiative. The initiative was labelled such a success that a redux was planned in April last year. Since then, there has been no talk of Odd -Even scheme. There hasn’t even been a neutral, unbiased review of whether the scheme attained its objectives. Given that there has been no talk of the scheme this entire year, it is plausible to believe that the planners realized that the scheme didn’t really work. To be brutally honest, the scheme had no impact whatsoever on Delhi’s air quality. And understandably so as
Vehicular pollution has only a small contribution to Delhi’s pathetic air quality. Once again, it was posturing and sloganeering that trumped common sense and logic. Delhi’s Air quality remains as bad as ever.
What is needed to combat Delhi-NCR’s air quality woes is for planners and leaders to acknowledge the factors that worsen Delhi’s air quality.
The first is climatic and there is pretty much nothing that can be done about this. Around the onset of winters, wind speed in the region slows down to almost nothing, trapping pollutants and creating a veritable gas chamber. This is an annual phenomenon but has become a significant problem recently because of stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana, which worsens the air quality in the National Capital region. Even this year, there is evidence of large scale stubble burning by farmers in Punjab, which coupled with low wind speeds in the region have trapped pollutants. Governments are busy fighting each other instead of coming up with creative solutions to wean farmers away from burning the crop stubbles. There are also reports how paddy farming not native to Punjab has wreaked environmental disaster. Sadly, our political leaders have neither the energy nor the focus to solve this problem.
The second major factor is dust on account of road side dust, construction work etc. Of this, road dust contributes to 50% of PM 10 and 38% of PM 2.5 pollution. Construction work has increased from 600 building plans in 2005 to 3600 in 2016 and these are merely the official numbers. In spite of dust being repeatedly identified as the chief culprit behind Delhi’s bad air quality, precious little has been done to regulate construction or look at innovative means of cleaning Delhi’s dust tracks. Delhi government’s much touted plans to rid Delhi’s road of dust don’t seem to have kicked off and construction spree in NCR has continued unabated with scant regard for environmental damage.
Vehicular pollution, while a smaller contributor, continues to be a significant factor in Delhi’s air quality troubles. The number of registered vehicles in the national capital rose by a whopping 64% in 2015-16 as per reports. The total number of vehicles in the capital crossed 1 crore mark this year. Of these, a large proportion of vehicles are scooters, motorcycles, trucks etc. that are notorious polluters. The ill conceived Odd Even scheme, strangely had excluded two wheelers from its ambit, inspite of the environmental havoc they create. Tiny Singapore, has banned cars to combat traffic but no such initiatives seem to be forthcoming from the Delhi government to tackle the much more severe and urgent problem of air pollution in the national capital. As living standards improve, vehicles continue to be added on Delhi’s roads, causing traffic snarls, parking woes and pollution. Local governments have made no efforts to popularize public transport. DTC, for instance is in death throes, while the ever delayed Metro is far from reaching all parts of the city and its environs.
Delhi’s Air quality troubles can be tackled but it will need political statemanship, resolve and focus. Sadly, unlike other issues, Air quality or pollution for that matter is hardly a vote getter in India. It is therefore far more likely that optics and sloganeering will continue to trump logic and reason. And all this while, Delhiites will continue to die a slow death.
Below is a series of accident after accident due to SMOG on Yamuna Expressway
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