I’ve got my two bits on the Delhi pollution control formula. It sucks. Being without a car in the NCR region can be absolutely crippling because of the massive distances that people cover in the course of a normal working day. An incident from when I was studying in Delhi will illustrate the NCR scale to those who haven’t been there. A friend of mine, visiting from Pune, requested directions to the nearest ATM, instead I requested him to wait and said I would take him there shortly. When we left home, he was taken aback when I hopped into the car, and completely stunned as I proceeded to drive to the nearest ATM that was a 7-10 minute drive away. Coming from a city where people routinely refused to travel to any place more than 20 minutes away, he was completely flabbergasted!
Without a car in NCR you are a rat, scrabbling to overcome the incredible distances and the wild climate swings that Delhiites have to live through. Can the government ensure that rickshaws and taxis will go anywhere, anytime? If I wanted to cycle, would it be safe? Where will I shower when I get to office? Why not motorbike it? Yes, it’s a solution I offer as THE remedy. But it doesn’t work for many people – image, skill and fear being leading reasons. And, in the NCR you do have some additional complications. Doing 100-200km of commuting can be tiring. And people would also need to keep a half an hour buffer to let the sweat dry up during summer or to thaw out their fingers in winter before entering that meeting.
Am I against the ban? Not entirely. I know which passing vehicle’s exhaust makes me more nauseous when I am out for a run in the morning. Many times on those long and desolate stretches of road that head towards Leh, I could tell that a truck was somewhere up ahead because my breathing would get more laboured, as my lungs struggled with the rare air and the diesel exhaust. What I don’t understand is how banning new diesel cars makes sense when the offenders are the scores of buses, rickshaws and trucks that pour clouds of black smoke into our environment. PUC? It's mandatory to have one, isn’t it? And, why not impound vehicles that exceed those norms? The real offenders. These vehicles are like pollution pumps. They are chugging away non-stop. While your car is parked in office during the day, or sitting in your garage at night these other vehicles are going about their business spewing poison.
Sadly, the powers of Delhi have opted to make scapegoats of millions of Delhi citizens rather than solving the actual problem. Will banning brand new cars with cleaner-than-ever engines be the solution? Aren’t people replacing older cars with new cars? So are they suggesting, hold on, let's hang onto those old bangers? In the UK an MOT certificate determines a car's road-worthiness, in Germany it’s a TUV certificate. If a car doesn’t pass norms for safety or emissions it is not allowed on the road. The PUC is a much simpler test and we haven’t even enforced that properly. The real pity is that instead of facing the challenge, looking it straight in the eye, we’ve gone and shoved our heads in the sand. Sorry Delhi, you have a great Metro and it deserves to be in the spotlight. But, not stress-tested like this.
Pune is famous for its lack of public transport and which is why it grew into the Indian two-wheeler capital. Over the last decade and a half of incredible “development”, this sleepy cool and green town has turned brown, warm and choked. With the development came more money and more cars. Why couldn’t the government think of building an infrastructure that encouraged people to stay on bikes? How about shelters for bikers to take refuge during sudden downpours? Dedicated bike lanes like I have seen in Malaysia, it keeps the bikers out of the way of four-wheeler traffic. It’ll be safer, quicker and smoother for all. Or, elevated roads just for bikes and cycles? They should be easier and cheaper to make.
The thing is we have to learn to play to our strengths and I’m sure there’s a solution that’s just right for Delhi. Until we figure that out, at least let's make sure our vehicles are PUC checked. The one upside of this forced faux-solution could be that it triggers new thinking and the atmosphere required to co-develop a responsible and sustainable solution. Because, in my books, this copy-pasted formula applied in the classic knee-jerk fashion surely isn’t it.