Must share responsibility for the air we share

A newspaper vendor rides his bicycle on a smoggy morning in New Delhi on December 1, 2015. (Reuters photo)

A newspaper vendor rides his bicycle on a smoggy morning in New Delhi on December 1, 2015. (Reuters photo)

Delhi is witnessing the worst pollution crisis in recent years and the city has been compared to a “gas chamber” by the High Court. The blame has been swiftly put on vehicular emissions, coal powered power plants and obsolete automobile technology, among others.

The Delhi government announced a slew of measures early December in the wake of the crisis. The steps taken by the government include closing down of two thermal power plants, barring trucks from entering the city before 11 pm and pre-poning the cut-off date for implementation of Euro-VI emission norms. The only move of the government which irked many and led to furious debating in television studios was regulating private vehicle usage by means of licence plate restrictions. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party sharply criticised the move by calling it “anti-people” and “half-baked” respectively.

The odd-even formula, which is to be implemented temporarily from January 1 will allow private vehicles access to Delhi’s roads only on alternate days based on licence plate numbers. The policy, if implemented accurately, can reduce pollution miraculously. But is the Indian society open to such diktats?

Implementing any policy in a diverse and complex country like India requires understanding of needs and mindsets. The Delhi High Court rightly observed that the Centre and the Delhi government’s action plans on air pollution were “not in action” because people were not following the rules.

Restrictions imposed by the government must be reasonable and practical in every possible way. Cities such as Beijing and Paris have implemented such restrictions in the past to decongest traffic and reduce air pollution. But public transport was expanded substantially to prevent any inconvenience. Several European countries have ear marked certain areas as low emission zones to tackle the hazard.

Delhi’s public transport system is relatively better than most metropolitan cities in the country, but the people to transport option ratio is highly disparate. The rising number of commuters have led to overcrowding in Metro trains and buses alike. Easing and expanding public transport is the need of the hour.

Also, the great Indian class divide is a major factor behind difference of opinion and misunderstanding. The psyche of the rich and affluent often makes them choose expensive cars over public transport, which is used by the less privileged mostly. This class divide must end for good and steps must be taken to improve connectivity in the city.

Pollution is harming us significantly and we must act collectively towards meeting pollution reduction targets before it’s too late.

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