Increasing pollution in Delhi and removing vehicles from the road

In any city or country in the world, handling or reducing pollution is not an easy task; it is messy and complex and would involve the execution of a number of steps – these steps could be a matter of days or years. In addition, it is easy to pinpoint one particular suspicion or reason and attack that rather than following a measured plan on how to reduce pollution. In India right now, we have ignored pollution over the past many years – after all, it is something that the developed west can afford to worry about; we have a country to develop and reach high standards and maybe pollution is something that comes as part of this process. However, there are numerous examples from the past that should shock us and maybe help convince the general public that getting in control of pollution is important during this development process.
One great example is the current environmental conditions in Beijing, the capital of China and a place experiencing break neck development. The pollution levels periodically are so high that the government implements extreme steps such as vehicular control and stopping industries, such as when it did so during the time period leading to the Olympic Games in Beijing; a time of great national prestige where it could not afford to have its reputation sullied over corruption. The extreme measures taken then, though they were helpful, are certainly not easily possible in a democratic country, and did not even continue in China, which is why the pollution levels in Beijing have become extremely high (although Delhi is now pretty close to those levels).

Now, environmentalists and some medical personnel have been screaming for some time about the increasing pollution levels in Delhi, with the various different parameters, whether these be Suspended Particulate Matter or the other parameters, all registering at much above safe levels, and all of these being hazardous to the health of citizens. These primarily impact the elderly and the young, but even those who are suffering from other health impairments or even the healthy. The health cost, the number of people for whom the health impact has contributed to their death is incredible and a cost that India can not afford anymore. Besides this, even from a development impact, the bad reputation that Delhi and other cities have developed puts a stop of people from outside India heading here to work – this is important if India has to develop as a magnet for international corporations to come here. However, there is zero to minimal public understanding that handling this pollution will mean some tough measures. Governments also do not really take action until there is strong public pressure or an intensive media campaign.
In the current case, there is a combination of many different factors; a strong media pressure on increasing levels of pollution and the health hazards that directly impact people, vigilant courts (both the High Court and the National Green Tribunal with the support of the Supreme Court); together these can exert a pressure that is significant. For some months now, the pressure has been building up, but everybody knows that there is no quick solution. Delhi (or any other city in the country) need to take a series of measures – identify the major causes of pollution (vehicular – trucks, old vehicles, diesel vehicles, and so on; stubble burning; dust in the city from construction and from the desert; and other such causes). Stopping or reducing these all have different control measures, many of them long term and difficult to implement because of the inconvenience caused to people.
However, there is a need to take some emergency measures. Through some serious prodding by the courts, the AAP Government has come out with a measure that other cities across the globe have taken, with different amounts of success. Reducing the amount of vehicular traffic on the road through the weekdays by allowing vehicles with license plates with the ending digit being even or odd is likely to cause a huge amount of inconvenience. The bigger problem is about implementation. With Delhi seeing a huge number of traffic violations on a regular basis, traffic people not able to cover most of the traffic signals and stop the large number of violations, and no camera based tracking of traffic violations, it is unreasonable to expect that the police will be able to stop people from breaking this new rule. The only possible way would be for a quick way to install traffic cameras to track and issue violations (unreasonable to do this quickly enough), or the police to issue large fines that would deter people from breaking this rule for the fear of getting caught (but this would need specific rules for this kind of traffic fines).
However, not to do something is equally unreasonable. While the Government needs to bring in much more efficient public transport systems (more metro services, more metro feeder services, more large buses), all of these are measures that will take time to happen. Trying to stop diesel emitting vehicles or preventing non-Delhi bound trucks from entering the city is something that will require creative solutions. In such a case, one can only hope that this odd-even solution of the vehicles on road is something that is implemented with due thought and with all possible effort; else it will end up becoming a joke.

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