As the capital self-destructs

Written by Malvika Singh | Updated: Jan 12 2002, 05:30am hrs
If you visit Delhi city, you will find it very pretty...just two things of which you must beware, dont drink the water and dont breathe the air. This was how Tom Lehrer described the American city in his great song Pollution. In that continent, cities and the atmosphere have been cleaned up and the quality of living has improved. Not so in India. It is appalling that Delhi should be in the condition it is despite having an intelligent chief minister at its helm.

The government in the capital city seems least concerned about the environment, the habitat and the citizens of the area under its jurisdiction. Dirty sewage flows into the backyards of Vasant Vihar and despite endless complaints to the minister concerned, nothing happens. The air is impossible to inhale, the water is not potable, the roads are death traps, and the leaders move across the overpowering mire in their white sarkari cars with red lights, oblivious and unconcerned about how they are ravaging this ancient, historic city and its citizens. Delhi should be deemed a national treasure and those who falter in its conservation as a living city should be brought to book and punished severely. Those who have to be made accountable and responsible are the chief executive of the state and her cabinet, followed by the chief secretary and his troops.

Anil Agarwal, who passed away less than a fortnight ago, had fought many battles on this front and had a large following in this city. He put forceful pressure on governments and policies. The question of emissions from vehicles was what he was concerned about and took a strong position on. However, within days of his passing, the Mashelkar Report was presented to the government and in five days flat, with unheard of haste, the cabinet signed off on the recommendations.

The Union government has defied the Supreme Court order. Engine manufacturers lobbies have won out, dates for introducing Euro III and IV norms have been pushed back. Three cheers for the vested interest factions who care only for their personal cash flows and not for the atmosphere and environment. Only when their children, their very own, begin to suffer from severe asthma attacks will they give in and become humane.

Why is it that destruction dominates our lives Why is it that the executive never does what it has to and waits for the courts to rule, compelling them to do their jobs with integrity Why is it that our rulers never give up their government homes till the courts hurl them out Why do they not abide by their own rules Small wonder that anarchy and corruption is rampant with those at the top setting the example! One can go blue in the face writing about the horrors around us but those who rule do not give a fig. The arrogance has become so overwhelming that they never see what is staring them in the face, nor hear what is being said.

This attitude has reduced India into being a dirty and chaotic country peopled with great minds, skills and philosophies all of which are threatened because of a gaping lacuna at the top of substandard leadership. This heritage city of Delhi could be a national model why is the government not inspired and motivated to make it a showpiece and deliver the goods Or do they know no better The municipality spends its time painting lines on the roads at rush hour, orchestrating traffic snarls, lines that are crossed at random all the time with the traffic cops looking on, hands in their pockets leaning against lamp posts much like roadside Romeos! Nobody whips anybody into action and there is no agenda. The deterioration continues and the destruction does not abate.

In sharp contrast, grand parties with large doses of politicians, bureaucrats and others, sponsored by five star hotels, help in blurring the reality and have become the rather gross symbol of life in Delhi life for the same 2,000 people who move like a herd from one place to another. Gracious, personal entertaining that once epitomised this city has passed on and remains a delicious memory. The great Indian trait of personal hospitality that linked the rich, the not-so-well-off and the poor, is disappearing.

Those outside of the privileged circle see the tamashas on the society pages as they wallow in the dreadful environment of real life meted out by the administration. Unattended garbage dumps exuding a strong stench, roadblocks without lights that are traps to kill citizens who could inadvertently crash into them, are the sculptures of the capital. It is shameful. Civil disorder is bound to take over and will lead Delhi into being a truly difficult city to administer and live in. The fault will rest squarely with those who rule.