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Pollution politics


NEW Delhi and Beijing are among the most polluted cities of the world. The quality of response that the two political systems have provided to the crises is a sad commentary on the efficacy of a democracy in the art of combatting emergencies. When Bejing was declared the most polluted city of the world, it inter alia declared a red alert, closed its schools, shut down the thermal plants, and imposed restrictions on plying of diesel generators and vehicles.

New Delhi’s response was tepid by contrast. Even when the Delhi High Court somewhat hysterically described life in Delhi to living in a gas chamber, the ongoing fight between the Central Government and the State Government did not permit the launching of a national response with all parties on high alert ready to move into action in well-rehearsed joint manoeuvres.

Internet humour
Instead we got internet humour. Arvind Kejriwal’s decision to allow vehicles with odd and even numbers to ply on Delhi roads on alternate days inspired the following joke:

Advertisement in matrimonial column: Boy with car having even number seeks an alliance with a girl possessing an odd number. Girl’s merits, qualifications, family background, religion, caste etc., no consideration. Apply with photograph of number plate at post box number…

Attitude of CP, Delhi
The Commissioner, Delhi Police who reports to the Lieutenant Governor and not to the Chief Minister said publicly that he had not been consulted and he was not sure that he had the surplus manpower in the ranks of the police to take on this additional responsibility.

Suggestions made by the HPC of the LG, Delhi
Fortunately, the High Powered Committee of the LG, Delhi took the matter more seriously and suggested the following measures:
i) A cess of `1 should be imposed on each pack of cigarettes and bottle of liquor, in order to create an urban transport fund.
ii) The police should make it mandatory for vehicles to display a sticker showing the Pollution Under Control certificate on the windshield.
iii) The PUC certificate should be a mandatory requirement for every purchase of petrol and diesel.
iv) Vehicles that do not have a destination in Delhi should not be allowed to enter Delhi.
v) Premium parking rates should be charged for parking in highly congested areas.
vi) Only battery-operated vehicles should ply for last mile connectivity.
vii) Metro Rail Corporation should introduce eight coaches for all its trains by 2016.

Decisions taken by Delhi Govt
The Delhi Government suggested the following measures in order to counter pollution:
a) Vehicles with odd and even numbers would be allowed to ply on designated alternate days. This proposal received such an immoderate amount of flak, despite the clarification that the decision was patterned after the Beijing precedent, that the CM was compelled to say that the decision would not be imposed on the public if it was seen to inflict too much inconvenience on them. The Supreme Court, however, found nothing undesirable in this decision which has been taken elsewhere also.
b) Special checking parties of the Transport Department would check the PUC certificates of vehicles.
c) There would be a sustained public awareness campaign to indicate the steps needed to be taken by them, especially with regard to reduction of emissions through constant attention to engine tuning and maintenance.
d) The Mass Rapid Transit System which had been introduced on an experimental basis should be extended. Having watched the operational problems faced by the system in the experimental stage, Delhiwallahs are not exactly ecstatic about this suggestion.
e) Fiscal incentives will be provided for buying new replacement vehicles.
f) The quality of fuel supplied to Delhi leaves much to be desired and will be constantly monitored.
g) The latest emission standards will be adopted for manufacture of vehicles in the country and for import of vehicles from abroad. Euro II standards will be applicable from 2017.
h) The movement of trucks will be permitted only after 11 pm.
i) As dust creates particulate matter, the government shall arrange for vacuum cleaning of roads.
j) There shall be a massive plantation drive along arterial roads.
k) All thermal power plants shall be closed down for some time. In the case of the Dadri plant, the National Green Tribunal shall be requested to pass on the orders.

Observations of Supreme Court
THE matter also went up to the Supreme Court. The Court found the pre-eminent position of Delhi as the most polluted city of the world “most embarrassing”. It called on the authorities to adopt a multi-pronged approach to the problem and come up with short-term, medium-term and long-term solutions. It hiked the pollution tax on commercial vehicles entering Delhi.

Suggestions of experts
Various experts have analysed the problem of pollution in Delhi and suggested their own solutions.
1. An example is the pollution caused by the use of pyre wood for the burning of dead bodies. It has been suggested that CNG/ electric crematoria should be used instead. Although this may hurt the sensibilities of orthodox Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist communities, it is possible to educate the more enlightened of them.
2. On the use of generators and vehicles based on diesel oil, there are varying points of view, ranging from a demand for absolute ban on use of diesel for any purpose whatsoever to a graded system of pricing and taxation designed to limit its use. Some experts favour the ban to be imposed in a gradual manner over a period ranging from three to five years.
3. It has also been suggested that only inverter battery systems and gas-based generators should be permitted as new backup units.
4. Distribution companies should not be permitted any unscheduled power interruption exceeding five minutes and should be penalised for a break if it occurs.
5. Bonfires based on wood and coal should be banned and be replaced by electric hotspots.
6. Waste incineration power plants should be installed in the vicinity of large garbage dump sites.
7. All metal fabrication workshops emitting toxic fumes should be moved outside the city.
8. The municipal authorities should formulate a Code of Conduct for builders. During demolition and construction of structures, the whole area should be cordoned off with proper covering and provided with dust catchers to prevent particulate emission into the atmosphere. Building material should not be allowed to be stacked on the streets.
9. All new construction should be frozen for a certain period of maximum risk.
10. Double-decker buses should be introduced on all major routes.
11. Autorickshaws should be replaced by compact GPS-equipped cars.
12. An intelligent, internet-based traffic management system should replace the present manual system
13. Electric vehicles should be introduced on a large scale.

The following components of the strategy may be implemented:

i) Production and operation of such vehicles should be exempted from all taxes and duties for seven years.
ii) A family unit should be allowed only one conventional fuel vehicle. Additional vehicles should all be EVs.
iii) All cabs should switch over to battery power in a phased manner.
iv) Import of vehicles based on conventional fuel power should be barred.
v) To increase the popularity of EVs, all VIPs, super stars and youth icons should be encouraged to use EVs.
vi) All government and company-provided vehicles should be EVs.
vii) All potentially important areas like residential and commercial buildings, parking areas, etc., should be equipped with charging stations.

Lessons from international experience
A quick review of the international experience in pollution control reveals the following nuggets of wisdom:
1. Japan taught us that we should act as fast as the natural or manmade calamity that has befallen us.
2. China taught us that we should not target the particular city in whose atmosphere we are interested. We should target the entire region.
3. Singapore taught us that draconian laws and exemplary financial punishments were effective instruments of action.
4. Some countries have fixed a certain number as the maximum that would be permitted for registration in that financial year. This acts as an effective deterrent against excessive registrations and prevents the entry of fresh vehicles on the road.

THERE is no doubt that New Delhi is currently in the unenviable position of being the most polluted city of the world. At present, it is undergoing a highly critical phase and should in fact have been formally notified as being in a state of emergency. The courts have responded admirably to the crisis and used appropriate language to push the authorities on the path of speedy action and spirited response. By saying that the court felt highly embarrassed by the position Delhi had earned, the Supreme Court has goaded the Government to action. By comparing Delhi to a gas chamber, the Delhi High Court has revived memories of Nazi atrocities.

Unfortunately, the politicians are locked in a vicious battle. The BJP has not been able to stomach the AAP’s winning of 67 out of 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly elections. Nor has the Bihar election improved the situation one bit. The BJP would not like to help out AAP in any important challenge the latter may face in Delhi.
Therein hangs the tail!

MK Kaw is a former Secretary, Government of India. (The views expressed are those of the columnist.)

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