Even though Delhi Metro has helped bring down vehicular pollution in the Capital, the transport system has itself not taken any nod from pollution control bodies for building stations, tracks and depots. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has, in reply to an RTI plea, admitted this and said it is exempt from taking 'consent to establish' from pollution-control authorities.
Pollution permits are renewed after periodic inspections and ensure that anti-pollution norms are adhered to in the long-term.
The DMRC has cited a 2007 letter of the ministry of urban development (MoUD) to justify not having taken permits from pollution watchdogs. It exempts the DMRC from 'having to obtain prior building approval from local bodies'.
But environmentalists claim the exemption is being misinterpreted.
Vikrant Tongad, who filed the RTI plea, said, "Pollution permits are no 'prior building approval from local bodies'. You cannot set up a restaurant without 'consent to operate' from Delhi Pollution Control Committee. Also, DMRC has admitted it has never taken completion certificates for its projects. All this is resulting in fewer stations being built with rain water harvesting systems and illegal use of bore wells."
HT recently reported that DMRC was using illegal bore wells for building its stations. The National Green Tribunal has also pulled up the DMRC for having failed to build rain water harvesting infrastructure at many of its stations.
So who monitors and controls the pollution caused during construction and operation?
"Our own environment department closely monitors pollution-related issues during construction. Metro operation is nonpolluting," the DMRC informed HT in a subsequent e-mail.
Delhi Metro has an operational network of 192.5 kilometres and 256 kilometres are likely to be added in the next seven years.
Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director at Centre for Science and Environment, points to a larger issue. "Currently there is no system of carrying out environment impact assessment of road and transit infrastructure projects inside cities. We need to have clear guidelines. Often construction activities are blamed for pollution. But there are no clear legal requirements to minimise impact. This has remained a grey area and needs policy clarity."
Delhi government's environment secretary Sanjiv Kumar said, "Since Delhi Metro helps in controlling pollution by reducing usage of private vehicles, they're exempt from the process of obtaining certain approvals for building and operating stations, tracks and depots. DMRC should also extend full cooperation in ensuring there is minimum pollution during construction." said Kumar, who also heads Delhi Pollution Control Committee.
"But we're monitoring their all other non-passenger, commercial activities, as they are not exempt," he added.