The screaming media headlines across the world — shut schools, masked and coughing citizens — the images of the national capital of India are far from comforting. The credibility of the country is further eroded, when amidst all this, the top leadership of the state and the country are inviting the global tourists and investors to visit India and claims are being liberally made about how the city is evolving into one of the best global destinations.
Regardless of the political claims, the common opinion about the city appears to be that it is more like a
time bomb just waiting to explode. Millions of lives are facing grave danger.
I believe that it is a desperate situation that warrants some desperate measures; and I am definitely not alone in this belief.
The quality of air and water in Delhi has been consistently worsening since past few decades. In recent years the level of air, water and noise pollution in Delhi has assumed alarming proportion. Supreme Court, Delhi High Court, National Green Tribunal, several global agencies and numerous NGOs have frequently raised this issue. Serious concerns have also been raised by medical fraternity also over the state of the health of Delhi residents, especially young children and the elderly.
Numerous agencies and authorities have made suggestions for reducing the pollution level in Delhi. However, most of these suggestions relate to the carbon and greenhouse gas emission by vehicles and burning of crops and firecrackers. Besides, discharge of untreated sewage and industrial waste in river Yamuna and construction dust have been cited as critical sources of water and air pollution respectively. The measures suggested and/or implemented to improve the quality of air and water also revolve around these suggestions.
Unfortunately, despite several attempts, there has been no perceptible change in the level of pollution in the past many years. In fact, the conditions have been worsening season after season.
The conventional measures like banning firecrackers on Diwali, implementing odd-even formula for vehicle for a few days, scrapping old vehicles, banning construction for few weeks, etc. may help in controlling the situation on adhoc basis. But these may not be sustainable solutions.
After travelling through the city extensively and talking to many people from various walks of life, I have concluded that we definitely need to take some radical measures. I suggest the following three lines of action that could help in solving the problem of pollution and materially improve the quality of life for the citizen. In the first reading, the suggestions may sound radical and somewhat utopian. But I firmly believe that with some political will these could be implemented in full.
Kill Delhi so that Delhites can survive
I suggest that NDMC area where the offices of central government and foreign missions are located may be carved out of Delhi and the rest area may be merged with the State of Haryana.
The Union Territory of Chandigarh may be transferred to the State of Punjab, and Delhi area may be made the capital of the State of Haryana. A long outstanding conflict would thus be solved.
The reorganised State of Haryana may be renamed Hastinapur and the capital city as Indraprastha to put things in the historical perspective.
A new smart town may be developed in the area presently falling between rural Delhi and Sonepat city in Haryana. All state government offices and government accommodation may be built there, minimising the need for travel.
All wholesale markets of old Delhi and industries may be shifted to the area between Najafgarh and Rohtak. The decongested areas of old Delhi may be developed as a luxury heritage city, making it a competitor to top global tourist destinations like Rome, Istanbul and Athens.
All resettlement colonies originally constructed to rehabilitate migrants in 1947, should be redeveloped as multistory smart apartments with adequate provisions for water and power conservation.
The compensation received from Punjab in lieu of Chandigarh and savings from abolition of present Delhi government and Chandigarh administration could provide seed money for development of Delhi heritage city. The rest could be borrowed from multilateral agencies and Japan etc.
This will (a) help in solving the perennial problems of water and electricity for Delhi, (b) support the revival of river Yamuna, and (c) lead to sustainable reduction in air pollution levels as population gets dispersed over a much larger area.
Revive Aravali hills
All construction in the Aravali hills in and around Delhi including ridge area, done after 1970, should be immediately and totally demolished. The shield of the city, i.e., Aravali hills should be reforested aggressively on mission basis. The Brij forests should be restored to their traditional glory, to provide a second layer of green shield.
Cut consumption of fossil fuels
Owning and driving private cars run of fossil fuels should be actively discouraged. Additional tax of up to Rs10/ltr may be imposed on the sale of fuel for cars. Parking charges for vehicles may also be raised materially to encourage the use of public transport.
In lieu of this, the metro fares may be cut by 50 percent and ride in public busses may be made totally free. City roads may be realigned to make sure that no residence is more than 1 km away from a public transport route. A larger number of air-conditioned clean DTC busses may be introduced to encourage people to use the public transport.
I suggest a special session of the Parliament and the legislative assemblies of the States of Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab must immediately be called to discuss the matter of pollution in the National Capital Region (NCR), wherein the suggestion made above and also by the various agencies, authorities, and civil society groups shall be discussed and an actionable plan approved for immediate execution.
Vijay Kumar Gaba explores the treasure you know as India, and shares his experiences and observations about social, economic and cultural events and conditions. He contributes his pennies to the society as Director, Equal India Foundation.