Delhi being smoggered, which city is next?

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What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I wish.

I’m talking about Delhi smog, which has led Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to call the city that is also the national capital, a ‘Gas Chamber’.

For the first time, I think, we are in some serious competition with China, as apparently, 1/10th of the China’s land area is covered in heavy smog. Well, Delhi’s smog is 4 times the levels at which Beijing declares it an ’emergency’. At places, the pollution levels are 17 times the ‘safe’ limit. Schools are shut for 3 days.

The Delhi government did call for a meeting this morning to discuss the issue. As for causes, the use of firewood, coal, diesel, petrol and burning of agricultural waste were found to be the culprits. They say it is crop stubble burning in the neighbouring states of Delhi that is  largely responsible for such pollution. Not firecrackers.

Now, exactly a week ago, it was the Diwali weekend. Diwali is one of the most important festivals in the Hindu tradition. Celebrations involve bursting of crackers, which, no doubt contribute to the pollution in general. Specifically though, they add sulphur and phosphorous and other such chemicals that are noxious when inhaled.

Last weekend, #PollutionFreeDiwali trended heavily on Twitter with people asking that use of crackers be dumped to reduce pollution at which people lashed back calling the others anti-Hindus, asking why this selective festival shaming was being done and so on.

Well, as far as pollution levels go, it’s the highest today, 7 days after Diwali. Much higher than the morning after the big celebration. Obviously, there’s a lot more going on.

The Delhi government has cited crop-burning in the neighbouring states as a major reason. But, there’s a very interesting thread on Twitter that questioned why places where crop burning was actually happening i.e. Rohtak, Punjab, etc. had much lower pollution levels than did Delhi.

It seems this is a combination of factors and behind it all, lies civic apathy and government’s lack of interest. The latter might change with the pollution problem coming to its head. Kejriwal is mulling over bringing back the odd-even formula when it comes to using private vehicles. Sheer tokenism, of course.

Our politicians advise reducing the use of private vehicles without ensuring effective, adequate, punctual, and safe public transport while they themselves travel in convoys of 6-8 cars for even intra-city jaunts.

Our public transport is in doldrums.

Our buses are gas-guzzling mammoths that are ill-maintained, less frequent, and fewer in number than what is required. There has been no tech or design upgrade over the years or even route optimisation. As a result, they occupy large spaces on roads, and often go empty.

Our trains, while they constitute the largest railway network in the world, too are often poorly maintained, especially the toilets, often not on time, and often considered unsafe for travel especially for women. Upon The Railways’ own admission, blankets on trains are washed maybe once in 2 months (You smelt it right…), and services are pretty bad – you won’t find good food even on long-haul routes.

No sooner are bus-stops are erected than bits of the metal railing and seating are stolen. Never to be replaced. No helpline phones, no vending machines nearby. Because of course, if you create assets you’ll have to spend on guarding them too. And that will never work in here, where people will steal even a manhole (drain) cover and leave a drain exposed.

Where transport services are involved, for instance in the case of autorickshaws, the drivers are a vote bank and will use political muscle to ask for a raise, to protest petrol price hike, etc. The government has no objection when they refuse to ply their customer, which is supposed to be their duty. Their welfare at the cost of the consumer is the government’s mantra. The easy way out.

When cab aggregators such as Uber/Ola arrive, the government should help them strengthen their network and services instead, it allows autos to strike in opposition to these cab services taking away their market share. It also allows cab aggregators to use non-transparent structures for surge pricing, instead of monitoring their functioning so that the common man is not inconvenienced. The aim should be to keep private vehicle ownership to a minimum and such services can go a long way in ensuring this.

The government provides metro services in cities but without supplying it with a feeder bus system so that a metro traveller can be duly incentivised to use the Metro. Mumbai has a local train network and the city pays the most tax in the country and yet, there is no AC on any of the trains. Every year, people die on these trains of suffocation; yes, you read it right.

So, all I have to say is, this too shall pass. With a little help from N95 pollution masks and ENT doctors and anti-allergic medications. Those with the means will invest in air purifiers. And politicians will go on doing what they do. At the expense of people who elect them to positions of power.

Don’t say I shouldn’t blame the government. I do. The government should know better than 90% of its people. It has the means and resources to study issues, take empowered decisions and implement them, but it doesn’t. What it does is blame the people.

When will people understand..

That what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

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