18 Dec 2015 15:09 IST

What’s the solution to Delhi’s pollution?

Though Metro is popular, it is mostly used by those who earlier relied on buses. Travelling by Metro is not considered ‘cool’ by many.

The Capital's air problem will not go away any time soon unless the Delhiites own it

In 2010, we moved from Mumbai to Delhi. It was my second stint in the Capital, and we rented a house in Kaushambi. Though in Ghaziabad, Kaushambi bordered with Delhi, and the Anand Vihar bus terminal just lay on the other side of the road. The house was good, the rent reasonable, and my office in Noida was just a half-an-hour drive away.

It was in the first month, and I was driving back home with a neighbour. As we reached Kaushambi, she pointed out to what, till then, I had thought was a hill.

“Do you know what that is?” she asked.

“A hill,” I answered, a bit bewildered.

“No,” she said smiling, “Look carefully… it is a garbage dump.”

Lo and behold, it was indeed a garbage dump! Later, I would see trucks dumping more waste on it, birds hovering over it and poor children rummaging through it.

In the coming days, I also discovered a drain close by that often emitted a foul smell. The area had an industrial complex, and coupled with the busy bus terminal and hundreds of trucks plying on the nearby National Highway, Anand Vihar and Kaushambi rarely had clean air.

But we never realised the seriousness of the situation, or that we were breathing poison until we moved to Chennai four years later. In almost every survey on air quality that appeared in 2015, Anand Vihar topped the list for being the most polluted area in Delhi, and the country. Not surprisingly, it again topped, in a consistent performance.

Attempts to contain

Kaushambi became popular after the rise of Arvind Kejriwal. He resided in one of the residential towers here, and as he rose to be a national figure, his blue Wagon-R and Kaushambi also became well-known. Now, as the Chief Minister of Delhi, he is spearheading the war on pollutants.

Experts have termed his odd-even formula as a short-term solution to make Delhi’s air cleaner. Even the Supreme Court’s judgment limiting the movement of trucks may not make much of a difference in the long-term. Just take the case of Anand Vihar.

Vehicular pollution might be the most visible culprit here, but the air won’t be clean until there is a better way to dispose of garbage than by creating a dump hill. The nearby industrial units need to be checked on their discharge mechanism.

And overall, the implementation of these measures will be the biggest factor. Just before moving to Chennai, I went to a PUC (Pollution Under Control) centre to get my car certified. The official offered me a two-year certificate for the price of one, if I could make his pocket heavier by ₹50 — it’s that cheap!

Forget China

It is not surprising that Kejriwal is borrowing practices from China, though these measures haven’t helped the country much — it is just another sign of our obsession with our neighbouring country.

A better example to follow could be Mexico City. In 1992, United Nations rated the air in Mexico’s capital as the worst in the planet. The city was even called the most dangerous place for children to live in.

But there has been a dramatic change in the city’s air. It no longer features in the top 10 list of the world’s most polluted cities. The transformation came about because of several measures that had long-term impact.

Apart from taking off old vehicles (more than 4,000 trucks alone were destroyed), the government gave subsidy to people who scrapped their cars and got new ones with better emission standards. Even the fuel supplied in petrol pumps was made cleaner. Public transport (rail, bus) was expanded to substitute cars and two-wheelers.

While many of the manufacturing units were shifted away from the city, the administrators also made the city greener. Almost 30,000 square metre of roof garden was created. This not only helped make the air cleaner, but also made the buildings cooler during the summer, limiting the use of air conditioners.

Many of these measures can be implemented in Delhi as well.

Culture problem

Apart from efficiently implementing the measures to limit pollution, another big challenge for Kejriwal would be to tackle the cultural outlook of people. Delhi’s vehicular population has increased almost 100 times since the turn of the century. Much of this exponential growth is driven by cars. The city adds 1,400 new cars every day. It is common for an average middle-class household to have two four-wheelers.

Many hoped that the introduction of the Metro would reduce the car-craze: it didn’t happen. Though Metro is popular, it is mostly used by those who earlier relied on buses. Many of my friends and acquaintances in the Capital admit that travelling by Metro is not considered ‘cool’.

Delhi’s air problem will not go away any time soon unless the Delhiites own it. And they can start by giving some rest to their cars.