Dream of clean Delhi air
Western disturbance along with its cyclonic circulation brought rain and thunderstorms in northern, central and western India. The Air Quality Index (AQI) gauged improved conditions as Delhi welcomed a few key decisions made to improve its air, primarily by decongesting the majestic city. While the Centre through Union minister for road transport and highways, Nitin Gadkari laid the foundation stone for another national highway project (Ashram-Badarpur-Faridabad-Ballabhgarh bypass) – Rs 3,580 crore – the Delhi government announced the construction of a 25 Km-4-lane road along Najafgarh drain near Dwarka Mor to decongest parts of outer Delhi. In a rare coincidence, the efforts of Centre and Delhi combined to provide a coherent push towards decongesting the capital. Last week, 4 lane flyover at Dhaula Kuan was opened as the first step towards the development of an 8-lane signal-free Dhaula Kuan-Airport corridor. Delhi government, via its budget, has stressed on widening the bridges and roads, development of neglected or ill-maintained roads as well as redesigning & street scraping of stretches of roads maintained by PWD. Their reinforced attempt is to expedite the ongoing projects which include foot-over bridges, underpasses, bridges and auxiliary roads. Highway projects worth Rs 5,000 crore are underway to decongest the National Capital Region from Centre's side. Delhi NCR is being treated to a feast of road infra development. The decongestion plans are well-crafted given the peculiarities of a metropolis yet the ultimate goal – reducing NCR pollution – seems to be ambiguous. There is no doubt that the novel attempts of authorities are directed towards unclogging Delhi NCR but a broader perspective to it will be insightful. Widening roads, building new roads, improving roads and maintaining them, invariably, leads to one thing – more roads! Now, more roads, by basic economics would connote more traffic: Induced demand where surplus supply means more consumption. Delhi does not have a shortage of cars. Improving economic conditions will only bring more cars on roads given a strengthening purchasing power of people. So, through our decongestion plot, we are simply brewing an induced demand scenario. And, we have China to affirm this – having several times more roads and facing unprecedented traffic. AQI, regularly discussed in NCR's context, tells us a lot about the alarming situation we face. AQI gauges how pollution level which asserts the necessity of immediate counter-pollution techniques, an absence of which will further deteriorate the air rendering public health in a state of disaster. Research on the impact of vehicular emissions and severe AQI draw a disastrous picture for the urban settlement. The rise of air purifiers and pollution masks is enough to raise public concern over the degrading air. In the backdrop of this, combating vehicular emission instead of giving it a chance to proliferate should be the predominant objective. A subtle realisation, both on Centre's as well as local government's part is pivotal to Delhi's environment. Promoting public transport is key to improving the air as well as decongesting Delhi. The common solution will work even better if given a reinforced push through more buses, cycle and pedestrian lanes, and foot-over bridges. Improving public transport and infrastructure, that too sustainably – which means inducing eco-friendly alternatives – remains a fair and pragmatic approach to Delhi's air concern. Delhi government on Saturday approved the procurement of 1,000 low-floor, air-conditioned, electric buses eyeing increased public transportation in the national capital. Such an electric bus fleet will be the largest in the country and simultaneously cost-effective. Besides the brilliant metro web that has entangled Delhi, and will further connect the intermediary dots in the next developmental phases, a cost-effective bus network and supplemented DTC fleet will help in commutation of millions more. The spotlight here comes on the policymakers to draft designs pertaining to a cleaner and safer transportation network which will augur well for the ever-growing city possessing a potential influx of millions of people in the coming times. Besides smarter public transport, a restoration of greener areas will greatly contribute towards improving the NCR's AQI. Green streets (trees planted all along the roads, markets, and colonies), green roof or solar panel, tax rebates on use of greener (renewable) alternatives. Decreasing the carbon footprint remains imperative for the entire world and Delhi's early commitment (it's never too late until it is) will augur well for the future. While nature, through its unexpected disturbances in air currents, accidentally aids in cleaning the NCR's air – settling the particles – it is our duty to proactively contribute in doing the same, giving respect to a strict timeline. Rethinking policies to fit the eco-friendly narrative of NCR will not only release it from the misery of poor air but make it a role model for others to follow suit. Only then will Delhi finally be able to breathe healthy.