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Choke hold

Delhi must come to grips with the monster of air pollution, set an example.

By: Express News Service |
Updated: March 28, 2015 12:01:00 am

Yet again, Delhi looks to the courts to protect its right to breathe. Half in jest, the high court says that it must hear environmental pleas despite a conflict of interest — its judges, too, are victims of unhealthy air. Indeed, the courts have been the last resort for an issue that is political, since it affects every citizen, and which should have been addressed politically and administratively. Governments have often been in denial, protesting that green policy impedes growth. But increased pollution is an expected waste product of growth, and it is the government’s responsibility to strike a balance and secure quality of life. Now the Delhi High Court has rejected symptomatic treatment like traffic management and parking regulations, and called for a green action plan by April 15.

Such a plan should recognise that green initiatives are unsustainable without the tonic of public pressure. US intervention, in the form of an online weather station in the embassy in Beijing, helped to make air quality a mainstream issue in China. The public education it provided made denial implausible and the administration had to respond. Second, urban pollution is a phenomenon as complex as the weather. No single agency can tackle it. The government’s remote sensing capabilities, academia and industry’s real-time analytical abilities, and the outreach of activists who can translate analysis into public action, will provide the solutions of the future.

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Delhi’s pollution is headline material because it is India’s fastest growing city. But as development and urbanisation accelerate, other metros and smaller towns will face the challenges that now bedevil the capital. While it is developing a fine metro rail system, its suburban rail network has always sputtered along and transport remains excessively dependent on fossil fuels. The Bus Rapid Transit System was poorly conceived and failed. Last mile connectivity is seriously flawed — the rental bicycle was a great idea, for instance, stillborn for want of usable cycle lanes. And the city remains in the choke-hold of its oldest enemies — suspended particulate material and chemicals in automobile emissions. It must grapple intelligently with these problems, so that other growing cities don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

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First published on: 28-03-2015 at 12:00:56 am
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