Still at Odds and Evens with Re­al­ity

Pol­lu­tion calls for a multi-pronged ef­fort

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page -

Three months af­ter the ini­tial run, Delhi is em­bark­ing on an­other round of odd-even driv­ing re­stric­tions for pri­vate cars to im­prove the city’s air qual­ity and re­duce con­ges­tion. But the city re­mains as un­pre­pared as be­fore, be­cause in the in­ter­ven­ing pe­riod, the Delhi govern­ment has done lit­tle to ex­pand or im­prove the pub­lic trans­port sys­tem.

Delhi chief min­is­ter Arvind Ke­jri­wal’s com­mit­ment to im­prov­ing air qual­ity is all about max­i­mum pub­lic­ity, min­i­mum ef­fect. It is fo­cused on lim­it­ing the num­ber of pri­vate cars ply­ing, even though cars (in­clud­ing taxis) ac­count for less than10% of the pol­lu­tion. If the CM were se­ri­ous about pol­lu­tion, then he would have fo­cused on soil, road dust, coal fly­ash, biomass and mu­nic­i­pal solid waste burn­ing, which are ma­jor sources of pol­lu­tion. Even with its rather nar­row fo­cus, the Delhi govern­ment has been ex­tremely cav­a­lier in its ap­proach to pro­vid­ing a vi­able al­ter­na­tive mode of trans­port, to en­hance pub­lic trans­port and re­duce de­pen­dence on pri­vate cars. A func­tional, pre­dictable, in­te­grated pub­lic trans­port sys­tem with ef­fi­cient last-mile con­nec­tiv­ity, and bet­ter road and traf­fic man­age­ment to ad­dress con­ges­tion is­sues is what is needed. Air pol­lu­tion is not re­stricted to city lim­its; so the Delhi govern­ment needs to work with neigh­bour­ing states, the cen­tral govern­ment, pol­lu­tion con­trol agen­cies, oil re­finer­ies that pro­duce low-grade fuel, and lo­cal govern­ments to ad­dress the root prob­lem and pol­lu­tion sources.

Global ex­pe­ri­ence shows that driv­ing curbs are a surge con­trol in­stru­ment, and not the ful­crum of pol­lu­tion con­trol. The data from Jan­uary bears this out — the city’s air qual­ity showed scant im­prove­ment dur­ing the odd­e­ven run. An ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion re­quires a com­pre­hen­sive pol­icy pack­age that in­cludes con­ges­tion fees, ex­pan­sion and in­te­gra­tion of pub­lic trans­port, im­proved fuel qual­ity, min­imis­ing sources of soil, road, and con­struc­tion dust, no burn­ing of mu­nic­i­pal waste and biomass. It re­quires work­ing with other agen­cies and govern­ments. In their ab­sence, what we have is a PR ex­er­cise.

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