Since Delhi is land-locked, it needs a comprehensive action plan at the neighbourhood level to contain pollution
Nothing could be a sadder comment on our tolerance levels than the fact that we smile at clear skies after a spell of rains and breathe easy at Delhi’s official air quality dipping to “very poor” from the “very severe” category. Looks like we have renegotiated our terms of endurance rather than those of our healthy survival and choose to work around everything else but our comfort zone. Which is why we should collectively ponder why the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority has turned alarmist, suggesting that all non-CNG vehicles be kept off the road in cycles or all road users follow the odd-even scheme, depending on the density of pollutants despite the season. EPCA chairperson Bhure Lal has asked the CPCB to discuss options with the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) task force and revert as early as possible. Although stubble burning, the main culprit of the pollutant overload, is on the wane now, industries have been reined in on waste and effluent discharges and commercial diesel trucks regulated, there has not been a significant or substantial dip in air quality indices. This drives home the point that we desperately need to address the elephant in the room, vehicular pollution. According to EPCA, vehicles contribute 40 per cent of the total emission load in Delhi and around 30 per cent of emissions in the NCR. What’s even more worrisome is that unregulated private vehicles have led to a sharp spike in nitrous oxides and particulate matter, those that have direct impact on our respiratory comfort zones and cause premature infant deaths and health epidemics. So that needs immediate redressal, therefore.
Given Delhi’s woeful lack of viable public infrastructure — even the Metro is overstretched and the CNG bus fleet is bursting at the seams — any restriction overburdens the daily commuter, both in terms of cost and productivity. Alternate transit and encircling routes, that some world cities have worked on assiduously, need to get off the drawing board now so that their incubation time can be minimised. Curbs need to be all-pervasive and though diesel cars have been demonised enough, there needs to be a clampdown on private two-wheelers that are as carbon-spewing. Paris, too, has not exempted motorcycles. Apart from a rationed plan, that could include tagging of vehicles according to fuel type, year of make or odd-even number plates, equal emphasis needs to be given on ensuring enforcement and compliance of their maintenance norms. And learning lessons from BeIjing, where emergency protocols have been in place sparing school buses, office shuttles, collective travel and medical transport, what has worked most is the insistence on green norms and denying violators vehicle insurance for a year. Meanwhile, the rollout of electric and hybrid cars has to be incentivised and backed up with allied infrastructure if it is to appeal to the family buyer. But since that process has just about got a governmental push and auto-makers are readjusting their moves, there is a gaping hole of a eco-friendly mass public transport that needs to be augmented immediately, not just in Delhi but in NCR. Since Delhi is land-locked unlike coastal metropolises that are geographically blessed with natural air dispersal cycles, it needs a comprehensive and contiguous action plan of its immediate neighbourhood to contain pollution. Micro-climate management simply won’t work in this clouded scenario. Of course, there is the other issue of de-scaling the Delhiite’s aspiration, which has so far prided itself on riding on cars. Would we limit our vehicle buys to two per family? Could we go for self-imposed curbs and see luxury in sharing green transport? Could we let go of our swanky bigness and make a virtue of going sociably micro? Point is there is no time to make a call. We just have to make good of available circumstance.
Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer