Delhi’s poor air quality has addled the brains of our policymakers so much that impractical ideas verging on the outlandish keep rolling out of them. Under the influence of pollutants, pragmatism, common sense and concern for the common man have disappeared from planning.
The latest suggestion by the Environment Protection Control Authority (EPCA) to ban all non-CNG vehicles in the region is yet another example of the bureaucracy’s predilection for ad-hocism—where it is keen to be seen taking a decision, any decision, instead of finding solutions—that has the potential to add to the misery of the people.
In a letter to the chief secretary of Delhi, EPCA chairperson Bhure Lal has warned if the air quality remains poor, the only solution would be to take all vehicles—private and public -- running on petrol and diesel off the roads. He might have as well ordered anarchy on roads or a short-term curfew. For, if the ban is enforced, Delhi would either come to a standstill on its roads or be forced to stay indoors on an extended leave.
Delhi moves on vehicles running on petrol and diesel. Out of the 1.20 crore registered vehicles, only around ten percent are powered by CNG. Banning one crore vehicles would put at least a crore more commuters—assuming just one person rides one vehicle—at the mercy of public transport.
Is the over-burdened public transport system of the National Capital Region capable of bearing this additional load? Data reveals 30 percent of vehicles in Delhi are private. A complete ban would imply an additional demand for more vehicles, which would be impossible to meet immediately.
As the Times of India points out, the public transport system is woefully inadequate to cater to the existing load. The 5,500 Delhi Transport Corporation and vehicles under the cluster scheme transport 30 lakh commuters. Even the Delhi metro, app-based services, autorickshaws and taxis would collapse under the additional burden.
The problem with bureaucrats like Lal is that they rarely heed to Mahatma Gandhi’s advice for keeping the last man in the queue in their mind before making such implausible suggestions. This happens primarily because most such policy decisions do not affect the lives of people who announce them. They continue to go to work in their chauffeur-driven sarkari vehicles without suffering the impact of their diktats. None of them has to endure the struggle of getting into a packed metro, getting squeezed in a packed DTC bus or wait endlessly for an auto or an app-based vehicle. For them, life goes on without an additional crease in the clothes.
Such hare-brained, panic-driven ideas underline the complete inefficacy of the people responsible for urban planning. Delhi’s air has been progressively deteriorating over the years. But institutions like EPCA have done absolutely nothing over the years to come up with a long-term plan. If Lal and his predecessors had envisaged a ban on vehicles, they should have worked with the government for augmenting public transport in the region. The proposed ban indicts EPIC for its failure and its insensitive plan for making people pay for it.
Ad-hoc measures, impractical ideas and general hand-wringing have become hallmarks of the annual charade that plays out in the theatre of absurd that Delhi has become. That Delhi’s air quality will deteriorate every year during winters is now a fait-accompli, yet the policy planners fail to find permanent solutions. The process of finding a solution to this perennial woe should start with a ban on all the non-performing institutions and bureaucrats, starting with those like Lal relishing post-retirement benefits.
Updated Date: Nov 13, 2018 14:36 PM