Delhi’s new environment and transport minister, Saurabh Bhardwaj of the Aam Aadmi Party, says his strategy against pollution is three-pronged — expand public transport, “re-examine” the previous Sheila Dikshit government’s ambitious Air Action Plan (AAP) and implement a large-scale public awareness campaign.
The primary focus would be public transport. “Without making alternative modes of transport available, there’s no point asking the common people to stop using cars. We are looking to give permits for 5,000 drivers to ply CNG autos and we’ll soon increase the number of CNG buses.”
Bhardwaj admitted the expansion of a CNG-fuelled transport system is fraught with difficulty. “When we analysed the data over the last few years, we found that a price rise in CNG had led to a parallel decrease in the number of vehicles using CNG kits. CNG prices rose soon after we came to power and we’ve approached the Supreme Court regarding this,” he said.
The Delhi government has filed a contempt petition to challenge the Centre’s cut in the allocation of domestic natural gas to the capital following an order by the Gujarat High Court, which has led to the increase in CNG prices.
The minister stressed the awareness campaigns. “We’ll be looking at models adopted by other countries and cities and then conduct a cost-to-benefit analysis to understand what exactly will work best for a city like Delhi, with its unique set of problems, and then implement them within a few months.”
The present government’s plan to expand public transport in Delhi faces a problem that had plagued the Sheila Dikshit government too. “Availability of buses is a problem. Buses of only two companies are running in Delhi. But we’re looking to get more tenders,” he said.
Bhardwaj said the file for the Sheila Dikshit government’s Air Action Plan hadn’t come to him yet, but he would look at steps taken by that government to see how much would be viable in the current plan period. The plan had proposed stricter measures against violations, a hike in parking rates, and other measures.
“In principle, I agree that public transport should replace the use of private vehicles, but it’s not enough to say that we’ll control air pollution by phasing out vehicles, or by increasing public transport — concrete measures need to be taken and those details are yet to be worked out.”