The past week saw the city respire some fresh air. All thanks to the rains from the receding monsoon clouds. While these clouds played havoc in the states of Uttarakhand in the north and Kerala down South, in Delhi it cleared the air of suspended dust particles.
However, despite the nature being balmy, the government kept deployed its machinery and monies in a project called Yudh Pradushan Ke Virudh (war against pollution). Hopefully, at the end of the campaign, its managers don’t justify the fresh air that the city inhaled last week as an outcome of their project.
This is a case of publicity driven government priorities, which often end up in being misplaced and misdirected as far as the public good goes. For example, the government went hammer and tongs about ‘revolutionised’ healthcare in the city through the Mohallah Clinics and also showcased some ‘international’ awards to reiterate its claim. How good are Mohallah Clinics and to what help they were for the residents was all too evident during the first and the second waves of the Coronavirus.
Coming to Yudh Pradushan Ke Virudh, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal at the press briefing while launching the anti-pollution campaign claimed that pollution in Delhi in the past five years has come down by 25 per cent. He must be having a data base to back his claim. But for the citizens, breathing during the autumn months has become progressively strenuous.
The announcement of this year’s campaign has come complete with a war room and an app for posting photos of pollution. Unfortunately, while making the plan, the government did not realise the possibility of rains, which has left the roads of the national capital in tatters.
The government should appreciate that vehicles standing at red lights is not the major reason for vehicular pollution but the traffic moving at the snail’s pace on broken roads lying in tatters. Kejriwal has been honest to accept the bad condition of the roads and also issued directions to departments concerned to fill potholes to reduce dust emissions, which, he accepted, was a major contributor to the air pollution in the city. Unfortunately, it has been a fortnight and the repair of the roads are yet to begin. Insiders claim that public works department did not have sufficient fund allocation to start work.
This is, however, not to suggest that better condition of roads, or for that matter switching of the engine at red lights, would free the city of vehicular pollution. They would remain as long as the number of vehicles continues to multiply. One of the major reasons for the increasing number of vehicles is the collapse of DTC-run public transport system.
Due to its shrinking fleet, the public transporter has been forced to shut down its depots. In the past seven years, the number of operational depots has come down from 46 to 39. The bigger shame is that 99.15 per cent of buses of the operational DTC fleet are over-aged and not fuel-efficient, thus adding to the pollution.
The number of over-aged buses in the DTC fleet in 2015 was as low as 19.74 per cent and the current status of 99.15 per cent speaks volumes for the governance deficit in the sector of public transport. Free ride for women cannot be a parameter to judge a robust public transport system. Pollution is not caused by seasonal winds but the failure of long-term government policies to curb it. The earlier this understanding dawns, the safer for the city.
Author and president, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice