On the eve of an anniversary that Delhi would rather forget, the city again bore witness to a numbing crime within the confines of a moving vehicle. A woman waiting anxiously for a reliable means of commute, which is not forthcoming, is lured into making a hasty arrangement with an unregistered private vehicle, whose proprietor leaves her neither home nor inviolated.
With a handkerchief stretched across her face, her spectacles now blinding her to the suffocating haze, she scampers across the pavement, only to miss her bus. Before she can lament, she realises that the carrier wasn’t a public one, and she lets out a sigh of relief. But then she takes it back again, for she has miles to travel and no breath to waste.
As the AAP government completes nearly three years, it has failed to usher in the two most pivotal changes required in the National Capital Region: Seamless mobility and a habitable environment, issues whose convergence impacts one section in particular: the women commuter. While multiple reasons have been proffered for the depreciating air quality in the capital, the major culprit is vehicular emission as evinced from scientific studies conducted by IIT Kanpur, and a parallel exercise conducted by independent experts. With the city witnessing unprecedented levels of air pollution, it was disheartening as a citizen to see the government being rapped by the NGT, which declared that they were focusing on everything apart from the environment. An appalling malfeasance, when one realises that the AAP had promised to expand the bus services and set up an Uniform Transport Authority, as part of its manifesto, promises on which it has clearly reneged.
Having pledged the addition of at least 5,000 buses in the next five years, the government has only been able to acquire 100 such vehicles up till now. Moreover only 5 per cent of the operational buses possess CCTV cameras and marshals, depriving women of their sense of security while travelling. Besides constant exhortations from the Lt. Governor for decreasing the bus fares for promoting their usage have not been heeded to, which automatically pushes the women towards unregistered private vehicles, similar to the one in which the aforementioned depravity happened. Most of these automobiles are running in strict contravention of the Motor Vehicles Act, an implausible scenario without administrative collusion.
Unfortunately, even the Central Government can’t be absolved of apathy, as the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has conceded to the NGT that none of its seventeen accredited labs have the capacity to check petroleum products for adulteration, meaning that not only are these cars unsafe but they can pollute the atmosphere with impunity. All of these factors compel women to walk long distances which worsens their health due to constant exposure to the contaminated air, besides endangering their safety as their path is laden with dark spots, yet to see the installation of streetlights. A glaring omission considering that it was another major promise contained in the AAP’s manifesto.
As for the Uniform Transport Authority (UTA), an agency that would allow for convergence of currently disparate departments like the DDA, the traffic police and DMRC, to alleviate traffic woes, the government seems averse to arriving at a consensus for its realisation. While previous chief ministers have faced administrative hurdles while promulgating sweeping changes, the AAP would do well to take note of Dikshit’s unwavering resolve to curb pollution. It was under her aegis that Delhi became the first state to adopt an action plan on climate change, while introducing a cess on diesel vehicle, despite vehement opposition from vested interests.
Since last mile-connectivity is essential for ensuring that women reach their residences safely, the authority which will allow seamless coordination between different modes of transport can allow the women to plan their navigation, without having to face potentially grievous uncertainties. Hence the government should undertake a concerted effort to resolve the impasse, to make the UTA a reality.
While AAP has ‘announced’ ameliorative measures like installation of mist fountains at strategic locations across the city, we as citizens should ensure that the dispensation is forced to remain alert by forcing the government to act on them, for AAP may have become merely metaphorical, but together we can lend our ‘hand’ to both our beleaguered environment and our resolute women.
Puja Bahri is the spokesperson for Delhi Congress. The views expressed are personal.