By Sharat Karekatt:
The Indian capital, ranked as the world’s fifth megacity, suffered a blow (not just any blow, a low blow) to its development agenda when it was ranked the world’s most polluted city in 2015. Already notorious for being one of the most unsafe cities in the past few years, Delhi’s problems only escalated with the government being notified by scientists the world over that the city will soon be like the inside of a ‘tandoori’ oven if they carried on as usual. The inhabitants of this city will be grilled like they grill ‘chicken tikka’ in the bylanes of Khan Market. Sandra Bullock’s tribulations in the movie Gravity seem like a cakewalk compared to Delhi’s problems.
The Air Pollution Index in Delhi has been steadily on the rise since the past decade or so, but no one really paid any attention to it, be it the central or the state governments or the average citizen. So, this was bound to happen. A major reason for pollution, however, can be attributed to the uncontrolled growth of the city without any sustainable policies. But then, almost everything that is inherent to Delhi is working against it.
The city has all the key factors for converting itself into a smoky ‘Tandoor’.
Delhi, being the country’s capital, has a population of 26 million with thousands flocking to the city every day. Like an excessive number of chicken leg pieces impaled by a single tandoori skewer. To accommodate such a huge influx of people, the existing parks, the normally vacant green space and the adjoining farmlands have become residential complexes with people cramped up close together. The land mafia, which is allowed to run amok plays a major factor in the growth of such structures and the turning of a blind eye to issues of sustainability. The natural carbon sinks are systematically destroyed. An increased population with limited resources to offer is one reason why the city is also a criminal haven.
Delhi has limited options for flushing out toxic air. A hot and dry climate is no help either. It’s a landlocked city. A perfect Tandoor. The dusty winds from the proximal Thar desert during the summer months every year add to the Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) in its air. When the trees are cut down to pave the way for the concrete jungle in the name of development, the amount of SPM is bound to increase exponentially. The city also has limited water resources and doesn’t seem to have enough to provide for this ever increasing population. Even the poshest of city enclaves in south Delhi suffer from water scarcity.
The main source of generating electricity for the city is coal. And it certainly doesn’t help that there are three main coal plants within the city: at Rajghat, Badarpur and Dadri. Moreover, they are old, outdated and very inefficient. The Badarpur power plant being particularly well past its due date. The more the coal, better the grill you know!
But then again, since it has to cater such a large population, the city cannot afford to close down any of these unless a new source of power is identified.
With the influx of people come a large number of vehicles on the roads. Consequently, there is an incredibly high rate of greenhouse gas emissions. The main problem is the enormous number of diesel-consuming vehicles plying on its roads. Most of them are more than ten years old. Also, affluent neighbourhoods use diesel generators to remain illuminated during frequent power blackouts. This again is a major contributor. The trucks running through the city are also major contributors to the problem. A perpetual hazy weather has become normal due to this. Constant discharge of pollutants and their inability to escape leads them to accumulate over the city forming a low hanging cloud. This gives the resultant ‘tikka’ a smoky flavour peculiar to Delhi.
Now, if we do not want to end up as smoked and grilled tikka, the problem has to be tackled. Tackling these issues would take an efficient government policy followed by strong measures to employ it. Out of all the above-mentioned complications, traffic is a variable that the city management can control effectively. And they are trying a lot on that front. Delhi introduced a metro rail which helped a lot in reducing on-road traffic. They are constantly expanding the reach of the metro. The Delhi government’s scheme of introducing the even/odd car policy was laudable. However, this alone will not do. Chiefly, the Centre has to do something about the power plants and come up with other renewable sources of power. But it’s a start. We learn by hit and trial and such information can be used to build a greener city in future.
Even though Delhi did come to its senses and it did cooperate with Delhi Government’s Odd/Even rule, forgoing some luxuries to make some improvements, it wasn’t until the air quality had become extremely bad and the problem confronted us in our face. After all this, there have been cases of some idiots resisting this scheme with all their might. Not because they don’t care about this problem but because of some political disagreement with the ruling party. Keeping differences aside in the face of a calamity is something we need to learn.
It is not only Delhi, if we go by the reports, almost all major cities in India are violators and the sad part is that most of us still do not accept it as a genuine cause of concern. It’s only matter of time before these other cities also cross the red line. The problem of climate is a national issue and has to be accepted as one.
I am no expert to provide solutions for all this. There are many scientific ways to go about it and I do hope that the government is employing all the tactics it can to confront this issue. What I really hope for is to engage you people with this problem and start a conversation.
The mitigation process will definitely have tradeoffs. It is obvious that we cannot go ahead with the present model which accepts GDP as an indicator for economic growth; we have to keep experimenting with greener solutions. And as citizens, we need to support policies aimed at controlling our greenhouse gas emissions. Educating ourselves on this issue is a start, followed by small lifestyle changes; for climate change is happening and we are its centre. We have to decide if what we need is free wi-fi or to fight for or a cleaner environment.