Delhi is one of the fastest growing capitals in the world in terms of population and economy. And with this rapid growth in population has come unbridled pollution that is now reaching epidemic levels. Delhi is now labeled as the most polluted capital in the world, surpassing Beijing.
The main cause of pollution in Delhi has been the explosion in vehicles on Delhi’s roads. As per data of Transport Department, Government of Delhi, between March 2008 and September 2012, the total numbers private vehicles registered in Delhi, including two and four wheelers, was 23,06,837. By 31 March 2015, this number had risen to 84,75,371. Total Commercial vehicles registered during the same period was 1,79,678. As on 31 March 2015, the number stood at 3,56,821.
Besides vehicle-led pollution, presence of thermal power plants in Delhi, presence of air polluting small scale factories and open burning of waste matter, all contribute to air pollution.
Immediate pollution control initiatives that the government can take
Limit new vehicle registrations
Firstly, the government has to develop a mechanism to restrict the number of personal and commercial vehicles being registered in Delhi. Personal car ownership beyond two per family must be discouraged by making the cost of ownership very expensive.
Phase-out vehicles more than 10 years old
All vehicles, personal or commercial, reaching 10 year age limit must be compulsorily retired.
Introduce Bharat-IV and Bharat VI vehicle norms
The government must push to introduce Bharat IV Emission Norms for vehicles as per stated target dates. This is absolutely essential before India attempts to introduce Bharat VI emission norms. There will be a consequent impact with vehicle cost rising with Bharat IV but the country must accept this without delay. Furthermore, India will have to upgrade the entire chain from fuel to vehicles to comply with Bharat VI norms. While this will be expensive, it is imperative that India moves towards adopting this.
Ban vehicles from certain areas
The government must encourage walking and cycling by declaring certain areas of the NCR vehicle-free. The experiment with ‘Raahgiri’, an innovative initiative for vehicle-free mornings on Sundays, first introduced in Gurgaon and subsequently in other parts of Delhi, is adequate proof that people are open to claiming back their city, if only government supports similar initiatives. Declaring certain days as vehicle-free will also help.
Introduce and encourage car pooling
Carpooling is an imperative measure and must be encouraged immediately. This will bring down the number of private cars on roads significantly.
Increase and improve public transportation
All classes of busses, air-conditioned and non-AC, are needed to encourage people to shift from personal cars to public transportation. If the government can introduce clean, comfortable and efficient bus services, more people who travel in personal cars will be open to using buses.
Shut down polluting industries in NCR
The government has to take immediate steps to shut down all factories in and around Delhi immediately to bring down pollution levels. For a variety of reasons, this has long been ignored by the authorities.
Introduce vacuum road cleaning
Delhi has a high-level of dust lying on the roads and other areas that get swept aside but never removed by the cleaning staff. The dust must be removed to reduce the same from flying into the air and this can be efficiently done by introducing larger number of vacuum cleaning vehicles. Besides this, greening of central verge and other similar spaces will help curb dust pollution.
Expand Metro and similar alternate transportation
Without doubt, Metro has been Delhi’s biggest gain in fighting pollution and improving the efficiency of people movement. This must be expanded further along with other alternate means of rapid transport like monorail, light pods and elevated dedicated bus routes.
Ban open waste burning
Open waste burning is a common practice in Delhi and NCR that significantly adds to smoke pollution. This practice must be banned with immediate effect and alternate methods of waste disposal introduced.
Increase green cover in NCR
Delhi is one of the greenest capitals in the world but there is plenty of scope to further increase the green cover. People participation in this can significantly contribute to increasing the existing levels.
Measures being taken by the Delhi government
With the apex court taking notice of the serious air pollution level in Delhi, the state government has announced several initiatives to combat the problem.
As an experiment, the government is introducing the even-odd car number initiative, wherein private cars with number plate ending with even and odd numbers will be allowed to ply on alternate days respectively, which theoretically means there should be a fifty per cent reduction in cars on roads on all working days of the week.
This is easier said as the success of the initiative depends upon the ability of the Traffic Police to strictly monitor and act against violators of the rule. The Delhi Police has already expressed ignorance of the initiative and seems reluctant to take on the challenge.
The government is also exploring the possibility of introducing elevated dedicated bus corridors. The earlier dedicated bus corridor scheme failed because it took away limited road space from other vehicles thus causing severe traffic jams in many locations. An elevated corridor is expected to address this problem while guaranteeing smooth flow of bus traffic. This should encourage more people to shift to buses.
The government plans to buy additional 10,000 buses with various capacities. This will help ease the pressure on the existing DTC fleet which is severely stressed due to over worked and under maintained vehicles at present.
The government is seriously looking at polluting industries in and around Delhi and more action is likely in the coming months. Adding to the Green cover with people participation has not yet shifted to mission mode and it remains to be seen if the government kick starts this by involving school children and residents welfare associations across Delhi.
It is time for Delhi to act.
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