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At Odds With Pollution; Even With Publicity

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By Sidharth Mishra

Come November, and Arvind Kejriwal Government would be back with the much feared Odd-Even scheme of vehicle rationing on the roads of Delhi, ostensibly to reduce pollution. The move is proposed as Mr Kejriwal and his team sees ‘severe+’ pollution levels in the city following bursting of crackers during Diwali and also the effects of stubble burning in the neighbouring areas of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Western Uttar Pradesh.

Such proposal doesn’t reflect towards best practices of governance. That a government foresees a crisis, sits idle till it dawns on the city and then takes what has been named as ‘emergency measures’, definitely doesn’t illustrate for good governance. How can a government foresee a weather emergency and put people on notice for using private transport especially given the poor state of public transport. The advance notice is for the scheme, which was implemented two times earlier in 2016 and then abandoned, as there was no agreement among experts on pollution having come down despite the normal traffic having been thrown haywire.

Kejriwal government’s initiative on vehicle rationing has largely been inspired by two major cities of the world which has faced heavy pollution in the past, namely – Beijing and London. While taking inspiration from these two cities, the Delhi Government has forgotten that in both these cities there is a super network of local and regional public transport services.

In fact, Kejriwal’s deputy Manish Sisodia took pride in dismantling the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) corridors to take its rating high on the populist chart. In doing so, they little realized that the bus corridor was part of the long term plan to strengthen public transport and reduce vehicular pollution in the city.    

The national Capital of India, in fact, has witnessed in the past five years dwindling of the fleet of buses under the operation of the Delhi Transport Corporation DTC). The non-seriousness of this government about strengthening the public transport system, which is the biggest agent to reduce pollution, can be gauged from the fact that the strength of buses in DTC fleet has come down from 6329 in 2010, when the Commonwealth Games were held, to just above 3700 buses.

Delhi is lucky that its lifeline Metro continues to provide efficient service but it’s stretched to the seam. Due to an obstinate stand taken by the Delhi Government in the past, the phase IV of the Metro network has been much delayed. Its early execution could have helped in keeping pollution under control.

One also has to take into account that the implementation of the revised Motor Vehicle Act has itself streamlined traffic on the roads of the national Capital. The long queues at the pollution checking centres, the non-plying of vehicles with incomplete documents and such other fears have helped in not just reducing pollution but also substantially disciplining traffic on the roads of the national Capital.

It’s also to be noted that no scheme of public welfare introduced by Kejriwal is without the freebie quotient. Be it free power, free water and free bus rides, all moves are focused towards garnering votes. Therefore the introduction of odd-even scheme could not be without the freebies. The government has announced that along with the introduction of the scheme, it would also be distributing free N95 masks. It goes without saying the distribution of the masks would not be without an advertising blitzkrieg and would help keep Kejriwal in news months ahead of the assembly elections.

The city needs to fight pollution, but it would be best fought without much attention being paid to seeking publicity in the newspapers, television and the radio. It should not become a tool for the aggrandisement of the political agenda of various parties.

Delhi needs to fight pollution, but it would be best fought by creating such facilities for the residents that they give up polluting options on their own volition. Following a Supreme Court order in the MC Mehta case in the mid-1990s, there was a flurry of measures like banning the diesel buses in the national capital. It was followed by the introduction of the CNG fleets of buses. Soon, the auto rickshaws and taxis too were asked to go on the gas.

For the initial period, this move had created quite a crisis as there were not sufficient numbers of CNG pumping stations in the city and the auto and taxi drivers spent long hours in the queue to refill the fuel tanks. Slowly the infrastructure for dispensing CNG was created and many private vehicle owners too went for the installation of CNG kits in their vehicles bringing down pollution levels.

Following these measures, the only smoke-billowing vehicles left in the city were the trucks that plied through the metropolis without many checks on them. This problem too, however, has been overcome with the opening of the eastern and the western peripheral highways, which has now put restrictions on long-route trucks from crisscrossing through the city.

An initiative by any government to curb pollution should be welcomed. The Kejriwal government too could have come for an approbation for its efforts if it had sought to engage the governments of the neighbouring states and the Centre into talks for controlling stubble fire. He would have also done well to launch public campaigns asking people to give up using fire crackers during the festival of Diwali and other celebrations like marriages.

But these engagements may not make headlines as a scheme of vehicle rationing would do.

(The writer is a senior journalist and political analyst.) 

 

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