The Choked Capital : politics of Delhi’s air pollution

By Mrgya V

In October 2020, a statutory body named Commission for Air Quality Management in the National capital region and adjoining areas was formed through an ordinance, to  track and combat air pollution in and around the national capital region.  It will supersede bodies such as the central and state pollution control boards of Delhi, Pubjab, Haryana, UP and Rajasthan and will have the powers to issue directions to the governments of these states on issues pertaining to air pollution. It is not the first body to be formed to combat Delhi air pollution as there are a few existing already. Almost every year something new, either as an initiative or body is introduced for Delhi’s air pollution.

Delhi is at the foot of mineral rich hills, head of northern alluvial fertile plains. So its geography and the presence of natural resources makes this place politically more active. The political economics is centred around of making more revenue  and corruption through these resources. This can be done more efficiently by owning these resources or having the power to exploit it. The exploitation of these resources gets restricted because the issue of pollution comes into the picture. So whoever controls the body for environmental clearances has the real control over these resources.

This ordinance makes it clear that now the real power is going to be with  central government as the majority of members in this body are from central government. At the same time the ordinance clearly states that the state as well as central bodies will not have jurisdiction over matters related to air pollution. No other individual, no body, or authority, constituted either under the law enacted by parliament or by state government or nominated in terms of judicial order shall act upon or have jurisdiction in relation to the matters covered by this ordinance. Power to issue fines will lie with this new commission. At the same time what role can the citizens play alongside the commission, will also be decided by the body only, once constituted. This ordinance puts the air pollution issue outside the purview of the judiciary also. As per the ordinance, only NGT, and not the Civil court, is authorised to hear cases where the commission is involved.

So the overall power to control the National capital and the surrounding areas is in the hands of this commission directly, and indirectly it is with the central government. Now onwards any new policy or project in this area will be indirectly controlled by the central government. This autonomy given to the central government can lead to corruption when it doesn’t have any checks and balances on it.

It is said that New laws are needed when old one fail. Over here it does not seem to be the case as the Environment pollution (prevention and control) Authority was also formed for the same cause earlier. The governments involved have not even tried implementing old laws and are busy forming new once.

The question that easily arises in mind is : Are these bodies really formed to control pollution or is there more than meets the eyes ? The governments involved end up playing the blame game for not improving the situation. Like right now the Union environment ministry lays the  blame at the Delhi government`s door for not finding a solution. Delhi blames Punjab & Haryana that they have not managed to ensure their farmers to not burn the post harvest stubble. 

The main reason for the whole problem is attributed to stubble burning by the farmers without addressing the reason for it and the respective state governments are claimed responsible for Delhi`s problem. The farmers are accused as if they are the only cause of Delhi’s air pollution. The whole politics roams around stubble burning and every year the farmers are blamed or a new law is enacted.

The real reason of Delhi`s pollution is its geographical location which makes it prone to pollution.  During winters when the movement of wind changes, 72% winds passing through Delhi are westerlies. These winds carry large amount of dust particles from deserts that lie at its western periphery and mining areas of hills which lie at Delhi`s head. These winds carry particulate matter produced due to stubble burning, as at the northern head of Delhi there are large fertile plains.  These particulate matter can not move horizontally as well as vertically because of  slow speed cold compressing wind during winters. So this large amount of particulate matter adds on to already existing Delhi`s air pollution.

Other causes for Delhi’s air pollution are too many vehicles, its large population, so many construction zones which keeps on adding  dust particles in the atmosphere, many illegal, unregulated industries, garbage burning which adds a good amount of particulate matter in the air. Farm fires or stubble burning is just one part of all these problems and not the only cause of Delhi’s air pollution.

The solution to Delhi’s air pollution should be two pronged. In the short term we need to stop operating the diesel generators, prevent the burning of garbage, reduce the level of vehicular pollution (by carpooling, using bicycles, use of public transport, more CNG vehicles), and of course stopping farm fires. In the long term we need to look into the growing desertification, re-greening, afforestation of the Aravali, using greener fuel, better garbage management, moving the pollution making industries out the city, reducing mining activities around that area etc.

Instead of thinking for sustainable, scientific, economic, behavioural and administrative solutions to the National Capital Region`s air pollution problem, we play the political blame game. This is never ending as no government wants to lose its interest in making money or playing to the sentiments of the popular support in its favour. They want mining to happen, can’t throw the illegally working industries out, can`t make farmers angry for banning stubble burning as all of the above are source of economic corruption and popular vote bank. So this pollution issue is talked about every winter and few initiatives also taken to quell the problem for the current year but not bother about the actual solution.

A simple solution can be that the government provide happy seeders to each gramsabha at subsidised rates. That will automatically reduce the number of fires in the farms. As it is a perineal problem, the solution has to be long term. Who will bear the cost, centre or the state, remains the question. Till that time the blame game of politics is played on.

While the factors responsible for Delhi’s air pollution may be meteorological, economic and scientific, the reason it remains unresolved is entirely political.

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