Last week, a well known policy analyst an early morning photograph of Delhi on a social media platform. It was scary. Nothing was visible except hazy outlines of buildings and vehicles. In the last few weeks, especially after Diwali, several such photographs and news reports on the Capital’s dire air pollution situation have appeared in the media.
According to the air quality index, most areas, including central Delhi, are polluted beyond permissible levels. With the State unable to respond to the emergency with drastic measures, citizens (who can afford to have responded by buying masks and air purifiers. However, these expensive steps are just short-term measures. The real issue remains to be tackled.
That the political class is clueless about how to deal with the issue was once again evident when Union road transport and highway minister Nitin Gadkari ducked the issue in an interview with Hindustan Times. Instead of blaming crackers, the increasing number of vehicles or crop burning, Mr Gadkari told HT that the Arvind Kejriwal government needs to conduct a comprehensive study to ascertain the principal polluters before deciding on the course of action to clean up the city’s air.
More studies? That would be like reinventing the wheel. There are no dearth of studies on what is causing pollution in Delhi and what policy measures are needed to tackle it. But not much has happened, the last critical step taken was probably the decision to convert all public vehicles to CNG ones. In fact, we haven’t even been able to remove old cars from the roads. The scheme was drafted by Mr Gadkari’s ministry in May but has failed to get approval from the Centre. If implemented, the policy would have taken 28 million old polluting vehicles off the country’s roads.
While we could have more studies and investigations, as Mr Gadkari wants, what is now needed is quick decisive action. In fact, Mr Gadkari must look at how his ministry can improve the quality of the city’s roads so that the dust factor can be controlled. In addition to this, he must impress upon his colleagues heading other ministries such as agriculture (to contain crop burning in neighbouring states), urban development ministry (the construction industry that falls under this ministry is responsible for around 4% of particulate emissions) and the all important environment ministry to get their acts together. Pollution is not a one ministry problem; there has to be concerted effort to curb it. Otherwise, we will keep going round and round the mulberry bush even as the air gets more and more toxic.