Over the past few days, there were two news items which made headlines in Delhi. One was the never-ending exchange of allegations between the city government and the Centre on the increasing levels of pollution in the national capital and the Supreme Court’s intervention. The second was a video clip which showed a rashly-driven car carrying a traffic cop on its bonnet before dropping him.
It would be interesting to examine if there is a connection between the increasing levels of pollution in the city and the rise in incidents of rashly driven vehicles. First the cause of pollution. Increasing numbers of evidence are emerging that pollution cannot be blamed on crop residue burning in the state of Punjab. The air quality of the national capital last week hit an eight-month low.
However, stubble burning accounted for just six per cent of the national capital’s PM 2.5 concentration. Though there were satellite images of farm fires around Amritsar and adjoining areas, the question which arises is why are there no reports of smog from the stretch of the rural belt which falls between the areas of Delhi and Amritsar.
Why is smog an urban phenomenon and not noticeable in the rural areas of the country? The answer lies in the fact there are much more dangerous and damaging factors than farm fires causing pollution in the national capital. Probably a Supreme Court finding regarding the matter would end the issue once and for all.
Now the second news which made headlines, the traffic cops atop the bonnet of the rashly driven car. According to the data available in the public domain, transportation contributes 41 per cent, industry 18 per cent and windblown dust over 21 per cent of the total pollution in the national capital.
Smog remains for months together even after the beginning of sowing season in farmlands because the other contributors of pollution do not go away. In 2018, there were 22 cars for per 1000 population in the city, which is predicted to grow at a staggering pace to 175 cars per 1,000 people by the year 2040. Do we still blame the farm fires alone, or put attention to the ever-growing number of vehicles, who not only add to pollution but also threaten life and safety on the roads through rash driving, like the one witnessed last week? The winter season is knocking at the doors of the national capital.
Given the high pollution levels and spread of the pandemic, one is not sure about how much damage smog will cause this year. Coronavirus is known to affect the functioning of a person’s lungs. Even during the usual winter season, the queue of patients outside pulmonology clinics witness a peak. This year the pulmonologists have been kept busy all through following the spread of the pandemic. One hopes that these queues outside lung clinics remain short in the days to come.
This, however, cannot happen by an act of God but by the initiatives of the persons who are in the charge of governance. The poor quality of the national capital’s air should also be blamed on the poor state of the public transport system which is in place. In the past six years, the average kilometres covered daily by the Delhi Transport Corporation fleet has come down from 9.68 lakh to 6.32 lakh. This has brought down the number of passengers carried per day from 46.77 lakh to 31.01 lakh.
This has all happened because the number of buses in the Delhi Transport Corporation fleet has gone down from 6,204 in March 2013 to 3,000-odd currently. Additionally, 99.15 per cent of buses of the operational Delhi Transport Corporation fleet are over-aged and not fuel-efficient, thus adding their bit to the pollution in the city.
The Delhi Transport Corporation buses are not to be confused with the Blue Line and Orange Line cluster buses which are now crowding the streets. Pollution can only be controlled by showing political will to overcome governance deficit and setting aside politics of playing to the gallery. There is no point blaming the poor voiceless farmers in far off districts of Punjab alone for the ills in the national capital.
Author and president, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice