Millennium Post

Locking horns

Locking horns

While the Delhi government and the NGT are locking horns to find a solution to the air pollution suffocating residents of the national capital region, prevailing conditions do not seem to be finding any space for respite. Almost a month since Diwali, and two-weeks into November, the air in Delhi continues to clog every breath, increasing the vulnerability of each individual who is forced to live in this toxic environment. Arvind Kejriwal had taken a positive first step by urging governments to set aside their political differences and find a solution—yet, differences in opinion have only intensified and solutions are yet to be meted out. Crop burning in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh is now over, but the particulate matter dispersed in the air continues to linger, worsened constantly by vehicular pollution and emission of industrial smoke.

On November 14, AQI levels dropped, coming down to 'very poor', which led to many breathing a sigh of relief. This is reflective of the abysmal conditions we are living in today—when very poor is considered to be a boon. However, we have to snap out of this illusion and realise that we're still trapped in the worst living conditions. The Delhi government's proposal to begin the odd-even scheme exempting women drivers and two-wheelers were shot down by the NGT, which rightfully highlighted that two-wheelers are known to cause far more damage than four-wheeled vehicles. After being rejected by the NGT, the Delhi government subsequently withdrew its petition and the odd-even scheme stands at not being applicable for this week of November. The lack of public buses in Delhi stands as a major cause of concern. As the Delhi High Court also emphasised in its hearing, successive governments in the national capital have failed to increase bus fleets in the city, causing the population to rely heavily on two-wheelers and private modes of communication.

The Delhi Metro has been a boon in the recent times, yet its bus services continue to be abysmal. A Supreme Court order had directed in 1998 that the national capital be equipped with 10,000 buses from the existing 5,000. However, that goal, even 19 years later, stands unachieved. The Delhi government is refusing to include two-wheelers in the exemption rule on this basis that there aren't enough buses; however, that is less of a viable argument and more of a policy implementation deficit. The NGT has been correct in not allowing for the implementation of the odd-even rule exempting two-wheelers as it is known that their contribution to aerial pollution far supersedes those of four-wheeled vehicles, and therefore bringing in restriction only on cars serves a half-hearted purpose, only causing harassment to citizens providing hardly a solution. As the NGT and Delhi government remain at loggerheads, as usual, the population continues to suffer.

Every other person you encounter on the streets is suffering from a bout of the flu, nagging headaches or allergies. Productivity is sharply reduced and the elderly and children stand as the most vulnerable. Even as we celebrated Children's' Day just two-days ago, we are doing little to protect the children of our city. The new petition that the Delhi government will present to the NGT will demand the implementation of odd-even in the neighbouring cities of NCR which have often shown higher levels of pollution than Delhi—such as Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Noida, Gurugram. But, as adamant as always, Kejriwal will stick to the exemption for two-wheelers and women. Possibly, his refusal to budge emanates from the fact that his government has provided few provision that would take care of citizens' commute in the absence of their own vehicles—a nagging concern in the first place that has contributed to heavy the vehicular emission and jam-packed roads of Delhi. What still seems to be escaping the policymakers attention is the fact that the odd-even scheme is a very small step that will do virtually nothing to alter prevailing conditions. There is an urgent need to revise scientific innovation, realise the need to check industrial emission, smoke and dust from construction sites, and of course crop burning which is the precursor to this entire ordeal.

NGT and Delhi government's disagreement over this petty method of eradicating pollution is absolutely pointless, first given that it has been a week and no solution has been found and second, they are heading towards the incorrect direction. A large-scale policy move that will be implemented around the year to check dust, smoke and vehicular emission has to be put in place before our city of dreams is lost in a cloud of disseminated smoke.

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