The President of India lives in New Deadly (formerly known as New Delhi), so do the Prime Minister, his ministers, elected Parliamentarians and politicians.
Deadly has an elected chief minister, a Lt Governor, MLAs, councillors, a dedicated secretariat packed with bureaucrats.
Yet, its desperate citizens are forced to move the Supreme Court for the basic right to live, breathe fresh air. Says a lot about our politicians and the faith, or the lack of it, we have in them.
Because of their pre-occupation with personal interests, Deadly's politicians collectively resemble Mughal ruler Muhammad Shah 'Sada Rangeela.' As pollution, the new Nadir Shah of our age, attacks, invades, threatens a qatl-e-aam of Deadly's citizens and destroy it forever, the Rangeelas and their incompetent and corrupt darbaris, advisors watch helplessly.
A thick layer of smog covered an area exceeding 100-km either side of Chandni Chowk eight days ago. Every day it gets worse, turning life in NCR into forced incarceration in a Nazi concentration chamber. People under the baton of three state governments —Deadly, Haryana (Faridabad, Gurgaon) and Uttar Pradesh (Noida) — and the Centre suffer helplessly.
But, the Rangeelas have no solution. So, as the smog, like Nadir Shah, stalks Deadly with its sword unsheathed, Dead-lites have no option but hide indoors and hope that they survive the invasion.
In 1952, London was hit by a similar smog, a cocktail of nitrates, carbon, sulphur and other deadly gases. It lasted for a week and killed around 4000 people. But, that was the last time London suffered a deadly smog. The catastrophe forced its local and national government to enforce long-term measures, bans and reforms that eased up the air, improved the quality of life and saved it from further destruction.
The Great Smog marked something of a turning point: until then, people had accepted smog as a necessary evil, treating smoke for more than a century as a trade-off for jobs and home comforts, refusing to give up luxuries and privileges that contributed to it. The Great Smog changed it completely.
Can politicians and bureaucrats of Deadly and NCR treat the current smog as a cataclysm that needs immediate long-term measures, an epoch-defining moment that calls for Emergency measures, suspension of luxuries that we have taken for granted?
Here are some of the measures that can save Deadly and NCR before it gets ruined and resembles a dark, grey Necropolis:
1) Start with a department/ministry of pollution for the entire NCR: Everybody wants to claim India's capital but when it comes to pollution, it is a proverbial orphan. Having a dedicated ministry reporting to the Centre to control the menace of corruption in the entire region may solve this problem. Think out of the hat, put ministers and bureaucrats in the environment ministries in nearby states under it. Give it the powers of a war cabinet.
2) Roll out a long-term plan: Once there is somebody in place to take decisions start with a long-term plan that is implemented and monitored throughout the year, with quantifiable targets and deadlines.
3) Enforce strict regulations on use of fuel for vehicles, industries and power plants. Move polluting industries to some other place, shut down coal-based power plans till the air-quality improves, ban entry of old vehicles, make entry of vehicles into heavily congested and polluted areas financially prohibitive by imposing heavy entry fees, parking charges.
4) Invest heavily in public transport: While gradual restrictions are imposed on private and commercial vehicles, invest in public transport, encourage use of bicycles, create safe tracks for pedestrians. In a country that spends crores on defence equipment, it won't be an extravagance to loosen purse-strings for dealing with the clear and present threat of pollution through increased lay out on public transport.
5) Educate people: Nothing will happen unless people give up practices that have brought our cities to the brink of ruin. Crackers must be banned for a year, owning multiple vehicles must be discouraged, a suitable alternative to burning of stubble has to be found by compensating farmers and making them aware of their actions.
Quick, emergency measures and a clear political consensus may yet save our Capital.
Otherwise, in a few years from now, New Deadly will destroy its citizens, force several rounds of migration.
Ironically, the Rangeelas would be the first to bolt.