Anupam Varma Delhi’s Air Pollution Solution Is Too Little, Too Late January 1, 2016

Air pollution in Delhi is suddenly everyone’s concern. Delhi breathes in a deadly concoction every winter, starting November till February. The smog hangs heavy all through the day, slowing down traffic, throwing air traffic off gear, and turns millions of Delhiites into passive smokers.

Over the past few years, this situation has worsened. India is on track to overtake China in terms of economic growth, but the Indian capital is chasing Beijing in terms of air pollution at a faster clip.

Earlier this December, a man spent three months vacuuming smog in Beijing, and ended up making a brick from the dust he collected. If Delhi doesn’t find a solution soon, this man will come knocking.

So what is the solution? Don’t say odd-even. It’s not a feasible solution, at least not today.

Delhi has a knack of looking for solutions overseas and implementing them in the city as is. The BRT corridor and the Commonwealth Games Village are recent examples. You will soon be adding the odd-even solution to this list.

I am not a pessimist, but the impending outcome of such a formula was clear the day it was floated.

Delhi lacks the capacity to ferry half its vehicle owners on a daily basis.

The DTC bus system has been paralysed by lack of drivers and buses. Not enough routes are served, and the frequency diminishes after 10 pm. The Metro is a saving grace, but has been running on all cylinders. The new routes will still take a few years to complete.

Autowallahs are…well, let’s skip them.

Running all your public transport on CNG is also not a wise choice. Just look at how many CNG filling stations Delhi has. The average waiting time at a CNG station during the day is 20 minutes. At night, when school buses come for their fill, the queues can be much longer.

The Delhi high court wants only cabs running on CNG to ply on the city’s roads. If the number of CNG pumps is not rapidly increased, be prepared for ugly traffic snarls outside every fueling station.

Most affluent households in Delhi own two cars. So let’s assume at least half these households will have an odd-even combination. Even if not, there’s nothing stopping them from buying a second-hand car with a number of their choice. While this may be a far-fetched idea, it could come true if the odd-even rule is implemented on a permanent basis.

Around 1,400 cars new cars roll out of Delhi’s showrooms every day. Let me remind you, affluent Delhiites won’t bat an eyelid when doling out lakhs of rupees for a fancy number plate on their Fortuners and Scorpios.

This is not to say that there’s no solution to pollution.

  • Factories in and around Delhi should follow stricter emission norms. If possible, they should run for fewer hours in a day.
  • The government should immediately introduce more DTC routes and buses, and also increase the operating time of the system. The same applies for the Metro.
  • The government should introduce an efficient car-pooling app. Several private operators are running such apps, but the Delhi government needs to step in an centralize all the information.
  • Sharing of autos and taxis should be encouraged. This is already done in the outskirts of Delhi, as well as near Metro stations. It is time to make this a practice throughout the city.
  • Ban the use of charcoal and wood as fuel for tandoors all across the city. LPG should be the only fuel used for cooking.
  • Plant more trees. Delhi was once a city of parks. Now there are only barren fields which are used as dumping grounds for colony residents.

None of these are quick-fix solutions. They will take time, and will have to overcome a lot of resistance from every corner. Perhaps several governments will come and go before our grandchildren get to breathe fresh air.

Avatar for Anupam Varma

He is a journalist who loves reading, number-crunching and driving for miles and miles in his free time. A big fan of psychedelic rock. Loves to eat and is open to experimenting with cuisines. Aspires to be like one of his short-story heroes: Anton Chekhov, O. Henry and Mark Twain.

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