Delhi will choke again because of private vehicles on the road, not because of stubble burning
Smog Towers are unlikely to make any dent with the DTC fleet reduced to half the number of buses it had in 2013 and private vehicles having doubled since 2010. Delhi will choke again this winter
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal last month patted his own back for ensuring ‘clean air’ in the national Capital by installing smog towers. How efficient these towers are will be revealed in the next few months. However, as winter is approaching, he is back to blaming Chief Ministers of the neighbouring states for not stopping stubble burning.
The Chief Minister, whose party is looking for political gains in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, has seldom asked farmers not to burn stubble while visiting these states. Delhi however continues to turn into a gas chamber at least twice every year.
Former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh was spot on when he wrote to the Prime Minister a few years back saying, “How can a country be called developed when its capital city has been reduced to a gas chamber, not by any natural disaster but a series of man-made ones?” People have gone to court to arrest this deficit in governance, to which the court had said that it “was aware of serious governance problem faced by people because of the constant fight between the Centre and Delhi government.”
Although smoke from farm fires contribute sometimes as much as 40% to the air pollution in Delhi, there are other sources of pollution too. But despite claiming improved air quality through full-page advertisements in newspapers, the bills for which must be running into hundreds of crores of rupees, air pollution in the city continues to peak year-afteryear. The headline grabbing arrangement by in the past of allowing odd and even numbered cars on the road on alternate days do not seem to have worked.
What’s choking Delhi then? The answer possibly lies in governance deficit. The biggest contributor, we now know, is automobile pollution, which has steadily increased, thanks to the shrinking public transport network. The Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal believes public transport would improve by giving free rides to women on the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC)- run buses. Give them a free ride by all means but first get the buses to ply on the roads.
In the past seven years, the average kilometres covered daily by the DTC fleet has come down from 9.68 lakh to 6.32 lakh or less. 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 DTC fleet has come down from 6,204 in March 2013 to less than 3,500 in the present. In the past seven years the number of operational DTC depots has come down from 46 to 39.
The bigger scandal is that 99.15 percent buses are over-aged and not fuel-efficient, thus adding their bit to the pollution. In March 2015 when Arvind Kejriwal was re-elected as chief minister for a full-term, the number of overaged buses in the DTC fleet was as low as 19.74 percent while the current figure is 99.15 percent.
The tussle between the city and the central government has delayed the expansion of the metro network. Another initiative of the previous governments at the Centre and in Delhi -- Regional Rapid Transit System (RRTS) for mobility and connectivity in the National Capital Region (NCR) has been deferred due to this turf war.
The RRTS, initiated by then Urban Development Minister Ajay Maken, was to be implemented by National Capital Region Transport Corporation (NCRTC). In July 2013 the Union Cabinet had approved constitution of NCRTC under the Companies Act with seed capital of Rs.100 crores for designing, developing, implementing, financing, operating and maintaining the RRTS.
The NCRTC was to develop three corridors: DelhiGhaziabad-Meerut, Delhi-Gurgaon-Rewari-Alwar and Delhi-Sonipat-Panipat. The project has since been delayed and put on the back burner.
A study by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology showed a growth of 15.6 percent in pollution caused by vehicular emission in the last decade. Between 2010-2018, the number of registered vehicles in Delhi has gone up from 57.3 lakh to 110 lakh. It must be noted that between 2013-18 just one bus was added to the DTC fleet. Auto-rickshaws contribute less than one percent of the total registered vehicles in the national capital.
The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) some years back ranked Delhi on top in terms of pollution, carbon emissions and energy consumption by urban commuters. The position at the top should shame people responsible for the governance of the city. But then they are shameless.
(The writer is a senior journalist and political analyst)