Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal admitted earlier this week that odd-even could not be a permanent solution to tackle Delhi’s air pollution. It’s a welcome realisation, considering he had earlier seemed to have come to the conclusion that only pollution-tested private vehicles belonging to an “electorally lightweight” section were responsible for blackening Delhi’s lungs, and so needed to be barred from roads on alternate days. And this when thousands of diesel taxis could roam freely, apparently cleaning up Delhi’s air every time they belched noxious fumes. It was obvious that in the obsession to make odd-even a success, the Kejriwal government ignored one of the main causes of vehicular pollution in Delhi, diesel taxis. So it is not a surprise that the Delhi government came across as unprepared to handle angry taxi drivers who blocked traffic for two consecutive days after the Supreme Court refused to extend the deadline of 1 May to remove diesel taxis from the national capital’s roads.
Converting a diesel taxi into CNG can be expensive, even retrofitting it with particulate filters to lower polluting emissions. The drivers are naturally unhappy at losing their main source of income and incurring a financial burden. The question here is what the Delhi government was doing in these six months to pre-empt the inevitable. Why were steps not taken to mitigate the blow? Why weren’t different measures thought of, including offering soft loans to the affected to help them graduate to a cleaner fuel? Worse, why did the government allow the registration of diesel vehicles to continue unchecked in this period? It is not doing the Kejriwal government any good to come across as unable, and even unwilling, to understand the gravity of the situation. Was it from this lack of understanding that a token measure such as odd-even stemmed? Or is it all about politics? Surely, Arvind Kejriwal does not want the perception to take root that he lacks the political will to take steps to tackle a life-and-death problem. Action is called for that is effective rather than cosmetic. It’s time to work to find a sustainable solution to Delhi’s pollution. This is not a time to practice statistical jugglery or bombard the whole country with advertisements to prove that odd-even was a success and brought down pollution levels in the national capital, when it did not.
The post of Chief Minister has some gravity associated with it, and in the case of Delhi, also visibility, sometimes international. Hence, it is all the more essential on the incumbent’s part to ensure that the gravitas of the post is not squandered away by picking up fights with all and sundry, including the media. In this context, a small corollary has to be mentioned. The language being used by the Delhi CM on social media, even against the Prime Minister, is not enhancing his reputation in any way. It’s time for Chief Minister Kejriwal to concentrate on what voters expect him to do, which is make their lives cleaner and better.