Cup of woes
In a tragic incident, four people died when a fire broke out at a factory in the crowded central Delhi neighbourhood of Karol Bagh on Monday afternoon. As per the initial reports, when fire engulfed the ill-fated factory, a heavily-built man tried to escape but got stuck in the narrow exit gate and this blocked the way for others to escape from the raging inferno which eventually claimed four lives in about 30 minutes before the fire was extinguished by the fire tenders sent by Delhi Fire Service. Monday's fire incident is the latest in a long list of similar incidents at different factories in the national capital. In most of these incidents, poor workers get trapped in factories, which are mostly located in crowded residential areas and function without adequate safeguards against hazards like fire.
Most of these factories start as small units without necessary facilities to tackle emergency situations and they continue to function from the same facility even when their operations scale up. The government agencies entrusted with the task to ensure that these factories run in a proper manner usually do not have any inkling of their operations until an accident takes place and some lives are lost. These factories also contribute majorly to the city's pollution as they dump the effluents just anywhere. One reason why the authorities are not able to keep a tab on the illegally-run factories or ensure that they abide by the rules and norms is the way Delhi's population has increased over the years. While narrating the difficulties that the city's haphazard urbanisation poses to the law enforcement agencies, the authorities earlier maintained that in many cases, they are not even aware that a certain area that did not have any population until recently has transformed into a residential area with a large number of people living in poorly-built accommodations. They say they are flabbergasted when they hear that some crime or other incident took place in an area which they thought was not inhabited. The biggest problem that the authorities face in maintaining standards of civic life in the national capital is the ambiguity over the population of the city. Different sources put the figure variously and the number of people living in Delhi as per the ration cards is about 50 lakh more than the estimate as per the last census.
Besides frequent accidents in small and medium level industrial units scattered all over the metropolis, Delhi also witnesses a high number of road accidents and fatalities. Crime is another area of concern which has grown exponentially over the years. And, if we add the problem of pollution to the list, Delhi becomes one of the most inhospitable places in the country.
The reason why Delhi attracts such high number of people from all over the country is the lure of finding an employment here. Better facilities in terms of transportation, electricity, strict law and order situation further drive uncontrolled migration into the city. The level of migration can be gauged from the fact that the three major cities near Delhi -- Noida, Gurugram, and Faridabad -- too have seen a population explosion. Now, the condition in these cities, which were once dubbed cleaner and quieter alternative to Delhi, is much worse than the national capital. The pollution level in these cities has grown much higher than that of Delhi, which itself has earned the dubious distinction of being a gas chamber due to uncontrolled vehicular pollution.
The policymakers have been at a loss as to how to tackle the problems that Delhi faces. The AAP government that came to power with an unprecedented majority has some good plans such as those related to school education and healthcare and it puts them in action as well. Another ambitious plan to install CCTV cameras across the city so that law enforcement agencies can investigate crime incidents with precision has remained stuck in the political slugfest between the state government and the Lieutenant Governor. As per the latest reports, the plan is in the final stages of implementation. However, no major breakthrough has been achieved in the area of tackling pollution which has consistently been in the danger zone. As about factories running within the city, and mostly, in residential areas, policymakers need to make some tough decisions. Removing them from the city would mean the loss of employment of millions of workers and their proprietors. Allowing them to continue functioning would leave the planners with little option to change the city for the better. Since both Central and state governments have powers in matters related to Delhi's governance, the two need to engage more pro-actively to find a solution to Delhi's woes.