Delhi made a brave start to clean up

Delhi appeared almost unrecognisable during the days of the odd-ev­en rule, when evenings appe­ared livable, devoid of traffic snarls and as if, in the midst of a holiday season or a citywide general strike. Delhi is the wo­rld’s second largest densely populated city after Tokyo. The populations of some of the European towns do not even add up to a couple of la­khs, though Delhi boasts more than 2.5 crore residents. No wonder, the first fortnight of the New Year transformed De­lhi into a dream city.

I often cover my routine ev­ening drives through Delhi in an hour-and-half, though now I did it in barely 20 minutes, which is why I find the odd-even scheme almost magical. This was tried and tested in Beijing a few years ago with overwhelming success, and appeared to work in Delhi on Day 1, though, to start with, so many of us remained sceptical. I remember crossing path with a journalist friend at the state-run Doordarshan Ken­dra, who informed me that he’d taken the metro to reach office, a first in years. It is go­od to see that a constructive move has been made to make Delhi pollution free and most Delhiites endorse the plan.

Global studies earlier sho­wed Beijing and now Delhi as the world’s most polluted city. It’s high time that city government draws up a sustained and viable campaign to clean up the mess, for which, several foolproof measures can be initiated. For starters, it sho­uld ban old diesel cars, as th­ese are among the biggest sou­rces of pollution. Cigarettes are no longer the prime cause of lung cancer; carcinogens concentrated in the atmosph­ere are far more lethal. I don’t remember a day when I wal­ked Delhi’s forever busy str­eets breathing freely, or without coughing. A large number of citizens have taken to wearing masks sold at neighbourhood chemists, even as the city stays shrouded by permanently looming smog. Haunted by the poisonous air, we no longer get to enjoy the city’s fabulous winter.

Let there be longer queues at the metro. Let there be mo­re public buses. Let the upper class and upper middle class keep aside their vanity and take to public transport. Let separate cycle tracks run parallel to the main carriageways and the citizens pedal to office. Delhi’s face will change for the better.

Citizens across Europe are looked up to for cycling to wo­rk. Berlin’s streets have been redesigned with cycling tracks that are not encroached upon by rush hour cars. Even ministers in Stockholm ride to wo­rk. Public representatives ha­ve the moral conviction to le­ad by way of example. Delhi needs to catch up with the world’s foremost modern civi­lisations. And the governme­nt’s top echelons must set the example to make this happen, instead of spending billions to treat bronchial ailments, as catastrophic death stares citizens in their faces.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who masterminded the move, set a precedent, dr­iving on alternate cars to wo­rk, as his own car sported an odd number; the tourism mi­nister bicycled to office. Kejriwal was strict about not exte­nding privileges based on citizens’ social standing, considering that Delhi is home to thousands of VIPs. I too chose to stay indoors every alternate day of the odd-even fortnight, as my car sports an even number plate. Though I have a security detail to escort me all over the city, I never felt it ne­cessary to drag my VIP mooring by driving out on days wh­en my car was meant to idle. I live in this city under a constant threat from fundamentalists without whom I would love to bicycle around the ci­ty’s lovely roads every day, irrespective of whether the odd-even rule was in force or not.

Yet, Delhi being Delhi, I was overwhelmed to note the scale of corruption in Delhi to help citizens bend the rules, despite the Herculean effort to clean up the city. In this co­untry, the corrupt always have the last word. Fuel stations were busy selling illegal CNG stickers for cars that don’t run on natural gas. And desperate citizens, who don’t think twice about burning up lakhs on the latest fuel guzzlers, got busy buying those stickers. I also noticed certain citizens driving around with the wrong nu­mber plate, despite the concession made only to self-driving women, CNG cars and for medical emergency. Who knows if these citizens were content at breaking the rule by paying a hefty Rs 2,000 fine? It’s sad that such scoundrels don’t understand how big the problem of pollution is.

It’s also unfortunate that well-known global brands selling diesel cars have been nagging about the Supreme Co­urt-imposed ban on sale of higher capacity diesel vehicles in the national capital, when everybody knows that such cars are a menace. It’s time that the carmakers adopt social and ecological consciousness instead of racing to capture market and chase profit.

All this when, a majority of Delhi’s residents actually fo­und it wise to wholeheartedly stick with the odd-even plan making the experiment a gra­nd success.