Mr Chief Minister, where should we park the problem of Delhi’s polluted air?

Instead of endlessly blaming Delhi’s neighbouring states --- Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan --- and the Union government for the current crisis, Mr Kejriwal could have done so much more to clean up the air before various manmade and environmental factors combined to envelop Delhi in deadly smog embrace this month.

editorials Updated: Nov 16, 2017 17:40 IST
Hindustan Times
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This week has been particularly hard for Delhi, with residents struggling to breathe due to terrible smog and air pollution levels. (Arun Sharma / HT Photo)

Delhi’s government has blamed everyone it possibly can for the air pollution crisis the city is witnessing this season (and which it does every year). It has pointed fingers at neighbouring states, the union government, with which it shares responsibilities for running the city, and just about anyone but itself.

For a few weeks now, the question everyone has been asking of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal is whether his government has done all it could have to prevent this annual crisis. The prevailing opinion was that it had not. This week, that opinion was reinforced by data. According to a Right to Information query filed by Delhi resident, Sanjeev Jain, the city government collected Rs 829 crore (till the beginning of November) from polluting trucks as green tax to combat air pollution but spent only a measly Rs 93 lakh. In addition, another Rs 500 crore, which was collected as cess on every litre of diesel sold since 2008, is also lying unused. That’s Rs 1,329 crore!

The government could have used this money to expand the city’s shamefully weak public transport structure by buying new buses, something that could have helped it reduce the number of vehicles on the road.

The number of buses in the fleet of the Delhi Transport Corp is at a seven-year low, so low that the AAP government could not have rolled out the odd-and-even arrangement at a day’s notice or move the excess load of two-wheeler riders onto the public transport.

Except for the buses purchased by private operators, the government hasn’t got a single one for DTC since the 2010 Commonwealth Games. While Delhi has pushed out an established bus service citing tendering problems and maintenance contract issues, Bengaluru, which began revamping its bus system much after the national capital, now runs 6,400 buses compared to Delhi’s 5,425. Bengaluru is half the size of Delhi in both population and expanse.

The Delhi government’s response to the information disclosed by its use (or lack of) of the green fund has been as vague as its pollution control plan. Initially it said that the reason it did not spend on buses was because it did not get land from the Union government to build depots.

Then, perhaps realising the shallowness of this excuse, it announced it would use some of the “green tax” funds to buy 500 electric buses. If land is indeed a problem, then how will it now build depots for these e-buses? Moreover, e-buses will take far longer to procure than CNG-powered buses.

This is not just a lack of planning; it’s the misuse of the mandate that the AAP government got in 2014 when it promised to make Delhi a world class city. We’re holding our breath.

First Published: Nov 16, 2017 17:21 IST