Home / Opinion / Columns /  Opinion | An air quality agenda we should implement quickly

A lot has been said and written about the ill-effects of pollution and the danger it poses, especially to children, the elderly and to the heart patients. However, after years of a stable government at the Centre, in Delhi, and in the municipal corporations, the problem refuses to go away. Probably, one of the reasons is that we are looking at “more visible" knee-jerk solutions and not on an effective scientific approach to the problem. It is high time we looked at these problems in a more holistic manner and arrived at permanent and long impacting solutions.

Here are some solutions:

1. The Supreme Court should immediately instruct the Central government to use satellite imagery to detect every fire in each state from 1 October to 31 January 2020, and states should pay a penalty for every incident of fire depending on the area on fire. This will ensure that states fall in line and suitably incentivize/ penalize farmers against stubble burning.

2. According to Government estimates, 17,925 sq km (twelve times the size of Delhi) of land is currently on fire. Basmati rice is one of the biggest culprits, with larger stubble residues than other rice varieties. All Basmati crop growers and their farms must be geo tagged, and the appropriate portion of stubble must be baled before Basmati can be sold. Balers should be made ubiquitously available on rent to enable even marginal farmers to use them.

3. Also, the rice sowing season needs to revert to April-September instead of June-November. The impact of stubble burning in November is more acute due to the wind direction and lower temperatures, accentuating the incidence of health hazards.

4. Other farming-driven solutions, involving the use of stubble for manure, enhancing soil quality and for cattle feed should be encouraged.

Then, there’s the challenge of containing vehicular pollution, which is the second biggest source it. But disproportionate blame is placed on vehicle users, as against the administration. Thankfully, the months of heavy pollution are also those which are relatively cool, and hence easier for most commuters to use public modes of transport. There are better ways to reduce vehicular pollution than knee-jerk solutions like odd-even, which lead to genuine hardships, and as past experience shows, achieves precious little in terms of reducing pollution.

Some of the measures we need are:

1. Rapid improvement in the quality and availability of public transport. Delhi needs at least twice the number of buses it has presently; the quality and upkeep of buses need to improve too.

2. The traffic snarls, and slow moving vehicles add disproportionately to our pollution woes. Road infrastructure needs to be strengthened, widened, and multiple new direct access roads like Barapulla need to be created for better and faster traffic movement. Besides reducing pollution, this will go a long way in improving quality of life for citizens.

3. Last mile connectivity solutions need to be improved and e-rickshaws, autos and cycle rickshaws need to have proper stands, registration and quality checks to enable a widespread usage. A number based or app based approach may be used to stop them from jamming critical junctions and pick up points

4. In major markets, multi-level parking must be built and usage should be encouraged through cheaper parking charges. Surface parking (except for disabled and senior citizens) should cost at least five times the charge of parking in a multi-level complex. Illegal and wrong parking should have severe penalties, commensurate with penalties under the new Motor Vehicles Act.

5. A scientific study for traffic-signal stoppage times, U-turns and possible one-way traffic flows should be used to ensure smoother flow of traffic. Big bottlenecks should be identified and rectified.

A city like Delhi and other cities also need comprehensive urban planning to reduce dust pollution levels. This is an opportunity to build capacities, research and explore technologies to solve the dust problem endemic to most north Indian cities. Effective solutions could include:

1. Mapping of streets to identify loose dust spots, and the creation of an environment where most of our roadside areas either have a green cover or are turned concrete.

2. Learn from cities like Indore to get rid of the mountains of garbage in places like Delhi’s Ghazipur and Mukarba Chowk. Use bacterial and enzyme based interventions, waste-to-energy plants and other initiatives to get rid of them.

3. Create walls of greenery in areas of the capital like Okhla, Mayapuri, Wazirpur, Udyog Vihar, etc, to capture, reduce and trap dust.

4. Urban cleaning to happen through vacuuming, so that road dust is not left on the roads.

5. Create a wall of large green trees like Peepul and other pollution absorbing plants along the Western and Eastern Peripheral expressways to contain the flow of dust and smoke coming in from outside.

The unfortunate part is that a lot of the problems and solutions mentioned above have been around for a while, but the relevant authorities have failed to work together to implement the latter. It’s high time that they are held accountable. We owe it to ourselves and to our children.

Aaditya Gutgutiya is a Delhi-based investment banker

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