It may seem impossible to shed the tag of world’s most polluted capital, but Delhi can improve its air quality provided there is political will to initiate action against polluters and implement the Delhi de-congestion plan, say environmental experts.
For inspiration, authorities have to look no further than Beijing which has improved its air quality by 10-15% since 2008 by taking off half a million polluting vehicles off the road, closing down coal-based power plants in neighbouring regions and creating disincentives for using multiple personal cars.
“If we fail to act now, the future of our children will be in jeopardy,” says Sunita Narain, director general of Centre for Science and Environment, an advocacy group.
Vehicular emissions, a major contributor to air pollution, can be controlled by making public transport more accessible and viable for Delhiites. In addition to expanding the reach of the Metro, more air-conditioned buses that ply near major residential areas and increased congestion charge or parking fee will ensure that the city’s aspiring middle class shuns personal vehicles in favour of public transport.
A push to electric vehicles through an Rs 800-crore central government subsidy scheme could reduce emission load from vehicles that run on fossil fuels.
Authorities would also have to come up with a uniform environmental regulation regime across the entire national capital region, including areas of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Harsh measures such as higher road tax on registration of diesel vehicles in the entire region and closing down industries on days that record high air toxicity are also needed, say experts.
In the absence of political will to take action, a committee under the Supreme Court with requisite powers can be set up wherein governments of Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh implement its informed decisions.
For instance, in the late 90s, the Environment Protection Control Authority set up by the Supreme Court provided requisite scientific input to clean Delhi’s air. The panel can be revived now.
Sarath Guttikunda, an air pollution expert who shifted to Goa because of Delhi’s highly-toxic air, argues that solutions are available but someone in authority needs to implement them.
For now, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal seems to be that person. Here’s a little motivation; former CM Sheila Dikshit won the 2003 assembly polls by claiming credit for cleaning Delhi’s air.