An odd question: Environment or vote-bank?

An odd question: Environment or vote-bank?

By THE SUNDAY GUARDIAN | 3 January, 2016

The odd-even formula for vehicular movement in the national capital to control environmental pollution would have been welcomed but for the political compulsions that seem to underlie this Delhi government policy, apart from the inconvenience it has caused to the car-owning population of the national capital region. What is “remarkable” about the odd-even formula is not so much the percentage of vehicles that are being covered by it—a measly 6%, as some reports are stating—but the percentage being kept out of it. 25 categories of vehicles have been exempted, out of which bikes number over 55 lakh. These two-wheelers, in spite of contributing to a substantial portion of vehicular pollution—a recent news report says 30%—are continuing to have a free run of Delhi’s roads. Some statements have been made that bikes may have to follow the odd-even formula in the second phase, but the operative word here is “may”. Compared to bikes, private cars contribute to only 5-10% of vehicular pollution, several studies have suggested. The question then is of intent. Are Delhiites to believe that the intention behind this formula is suspect? Even though there are no watertight compartments when it comes to voters and voting patterns, a perusal of last year’s Delhi Assembly elections shows that the main vote that has brought the Arvind Kejriwal government to power has come from the not-so-affluent section of the population. This segment does not always drive private cars; instead, it uses different modes of public transport to commute and also uses two-wheelers, liberally. But this section is not affected by the odd-even formula; not even those who drive diesel taxis for a living. Presumably, these diesel taxis emit clean air, and not toxic fumes, the reason why they are being allowed to ply on Delhi roads, while restrictions are being imposed on private diesel vehicles.

The government seems to have forgotten that it is the car-driving segment of the population, the middle-income group and above, which is also primarily the tax-paying segment. It is this section that is being inconvenienced the most—not getting the services that they are paying for. It is a different matter that a substantial section of this group also had voted Kejriwal to power, in the hope of a corruption free, clean government.

A government’s duty is to create conditions that are conducive to good work and ensure full productivity. A government’s job is to create world class infrastructure for its population, so that taking the public transport becomes a matter of ease for everyone, and not a nightmare, the way it is in Delhi during peak hours, and even otherwise. The reach of public transport also has to be extensive. Any forward-looking government, which wants to create a bright economic environment for its people, should think twice before hobbling a segment for whom driving to the workplace, or driving around the city on business, is a matter of necessity.

Curbing pollution is a matter of life and death for Delhi. But more thought should have been given to the implementation of the policy. Now that the New Year holidays are getting over, the next few days will show whether Delhi can be saved from descending into chaos over the next fortnight. If the Delhi government wants a long-term solution to the pollution problem, it has to think of a policy which is friendly to all sections of the population rather than the one currently in place.

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