It is difficult to see why the Delhi government continues to rely on episodic solutions to curb air pollution when it should have worked, along with the Centre and the government of neighbouring states, on sustainable, long-term solutions. With the national capital’s air quality index stubbornly staying at >400 over the past few days, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has hinted at another round of odd-even restrictions on four-wheelers. Data from at least three studies, including the 2016 IIT Kanpur one, expose the odd-even myopia—road dust and construction far outstrip vehicular emissions’ contribution to pollution in the national capital, and the bulk of vehicular pollution is from trucks and two-wheelers. Indeed, as FE has pointed out before, odd-even removes just 1% of Delhi’s pollution—0.5% if you consider the relaxation for cars driven by women and assume that there are as many women driving cars as men in the city. So, the odd-even restriction reflects not only the state government’s tunnel vision on pollution, but, much worse, its penchant for populist policies.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) fining the Kejriwal government Rs 25 crore for failing to act on air pollution—the case pertained its failure in acting against illegal burning of plastic and leather waste within the national capital territory—should have served as a wake-up call. The NGT maintained that despite its clear directions there was hardly any action and there was blatant violation of the law under the very nose of the authorities “who have hardly done anything concrete except furnishing excuses and helplessness”. Such administrative lethargy on pollution control in Delhi isn’t really atypical. Even though the Environment Pollution Control Authority, formed to consolidate pollution control efforts in the national capital region, ordered the immediate closure of NTPC’s Badarpur power plant in October last year, it wasn’t shut down till a full year after. Similarly, the Delhi government has only half of the 11,000 CNG buses needed to cater for the public transport demand in the city. Delhi’s urban local bodies have failed to add as many mechanical sweepers as needed to tackle the road dust problem.
To be sure, Delhi’s pollution problem needs the Centre and the governments of the states that abut Delhi to also do their bit, especially Punjab and Haryana on crop-stubble burning. However, that the Delhi government can’t resort to episodic solutions has been clear for a while. The government needs to get its act together on fighting pollution, and not just air pollution, as the NGT fine of Rs 50 crore on the state government—for not closing down illegal steel pickling units that contribute to Yamuna’s pollution—makes clear.