It appears that the the ‘ides of March’ have begun to visit Delhiites in November. It was in November 2015 that they first felt extreme increase in air pollution. The pyrotechnics associated with Diwali appeared to have left high amounts of particulate matter in the air and smog engulfed the city for days together. Court intervention and concern of citizens forced the government to act swiftly with schemes to control air pollution. The only possible control mechanism the government could think of was to impose restriction on vehicular movement as per the odd/even number plates. The scheme was implemented twice in 2016: first from January 1 to 15 and then from April 15 to 30. The air pollution it could remedy was minimal but it certainly reduced vehicular congestion and was hailed a success.
In November 2016, the smog came again and there was no perceptible relief to the public. Government measures to remedy the problem were not in evidence. In 2017, not seeing any attempt by the government to control pollution, the Supreme Court banned the sale of firecrackers. There was certainly a perceptible decline in noise pollution. However, huge blankets of smog engulfed the city and neighbouring areas. The reason? Farmers burning wheat stubble in Punjab. Now it is said that dust storms in the Middle East caused this smog.
The Supreme Court had directed the levy of an environment compensation charge on goods vehicles entering the capital. It was promptly levied from November 2015. Till November this year, Rs 829 crore has been collected. This money was to be spent on augmenting public transport, improving roads and developing extra facilities for cyclists and pedestrians. The response to an RTI query reveals that only Rs 93 lakh has been spent. This smacks of extreme irresponsibility on behalf of the Delhi government. We have only 5,425 buses against the requirement of 11,000. The government claims they did not buy buses because there was no parking space! Incredulous. No parking space because the Delhi Development Authority did not allot land. And they could not engage with the DDA over these two years. Why? Because the DDA is chaired by the lieutenant governor. How churlish can this blame game be.
Delhiites hear the same noises. Governments and chief ministers blaming each other. One chief minister comes in to the capital and declares, “I am here but where is the Delhi CM?”He expects people to believe that he can’t find the chief minister to set up a dialogue on how to control the smog. This is when the Delhi chief minister is all over the media, everyday, for blaming someone—his own bureaucracy, the Modi government, the BJP-dominated municipal council, the chief ministers of neighbouring states. But they can’t locate each other to have a dialogue. Poor chaps. Looking for a needle in a haystack and no one—not even their respective retinue of staff—to help them? How helpless!
A deep rooted analysis of the issue reveals: The Delhi government is not bothered since its vote bank of autorickshaw drivers, scooterists and jhuggi colonies are not directly concerned. For the Union government the issue is not of any immediate political consequence. They would hence see the Delhi government face the heat and get a bad name (“mainu ki”—why is it my concern).
In the midst of all this noise and thunder is the poor citizen, who is remembered only once in five years. If the air is bad, he is advised to leave the city to save himself as no one in authority cares for him. He is reduced to “a tale told by an idiot..., signifying nothing”! Alas. When will we get a responsive government, which cares for its citizens? If we ask, they will remind us: We deserve the government that we get.
Former comptroller and auditor general, Rai is the head of the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators of the BCCI.