Delhi’s high air pollution is yet another indicator of UPA government’s preference of corporate over people



Delhi’s high air pollution like of many other cities in India is yet another indicator of how the UPA government has preferred corporate world over aam aadmi.

A national debate with minimal political tinge flared up this week in the newspapers and blogsphere over Delhi or Beijing being the worst polluted city in the world. The debate was triggered by an article in New York Times saying Delhi had worse pollution levels than Beijing which was strongly refuted by the Indian government.

The Indian government’s claim that Delhi’s air was much better than that of Beijing was not very convincing and showed usual statistical jugglery to come out of a tricky situation. Those who have been to Beijing would tell you that its air quality is much better than that of Delhi.

I agree with scientists that high pollution level during winter months is driven by weather conditions reducing dispersal of pollutants in both Delhi and Beijing.

But, not with their claim that Delhi’s pollution levels is not as bad as perceived in the media. To me, it is even worse as walking on a Delhi street for an hour is equivalent to smoking a couple of cigarettes in London or Paris.

The big question one may ask is why the situation has reached such a grave point? The answer is simple — the government is not willing to bring in policy framework to restrict registration of new vehicles and to push the automobile and oil companies to adopt cleaner technologies.

There had just been talk, talk and talk in the last decade but no action.

Delhi government built flyovers after flyovers giving impetus to personal cars but did little to improve public transport system, other than expanding metro. Getting reliable and high quality last mile public connectivity in the national capital for a large majority of public is still a distant dream.

A rickety gramin seva or private CNG buses is what the government has provided. There is no incentive for people to leave their personal vehicles behind and use public transport which can reduce pollution levels to some extent.

Delhi has refused to learn from Beijing which introduced curbs on personal vehicles to reduce its emissions load substantially in the last decade or so. No good environmental practices have been applied in Delhi that can keep the daily pollution levels under check.

The capital was clearly driven by the national policy, where in the UPA government for 10 years just spoke about air pollution and did almost nothing. The UPA government feared that any dramatic policy change will hit the economic growth adversely as automobile is the only sector consistently witnessing growth despite economic slow down. Public health took a backseat to growth.

In 2005, the UPA government proposed new fuel efficiency norms – aimed at reducing carbon emissions – for cars. Carbon is considered one of most toxic pollutants. Nine years down the line, the norms are still in the making. The government has refused to notify the new norms under pressure from automobile companies who claim it will hit sales as prices of cars will increase by 15-20%.

That’s not all. In April 2010, the government notified Bharat stage IV norms for fuel and vehicles in 13 cities but failed to bring entire country under the ambit of cleaner fuel norms. The reason, once again reluctance of car and oil companies to enhance technology to adopt new norms.

While the number of vehicles has increased dramatically the road space has not risen in proportion resulting in increase in pollution load. Slow moving traffic leads to higher emission per vehicle because of increase in fuel burning.

This is amply reflected in the government data. In the past decade, the number of cities crossing air pollution safe limit prescribed by the government has increased from about 70% to over 90%. Only two India cities can now be termed safe on pollution parameters.

That has not been enough to stir the government into action. It appears that the government is waiting for direct evidence to show that air pollution has started claiming people’s lives in big Indian cities like Mumbai and Delhi. Only death can move dead ruling class into action, I suppose. If not, it is time for them to initiate measures to clean the air.

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