Arvind Kejriwal could not be more right. High levels of pollution and the presence of the deadly smog creating a major health hazard for the citizens in the capital are not a problem of the Delhi government alone. It concerns each one of us, and thus, it is vital for the Centre as well as other state governments, particularly those of Punjab and Haryana to help ease the situation so that Delhiites can breathe easy. The dangerous conditions prevalent in the city are the consequences of a number of factors and the burning of crop stubble by farmers in Haryana and Punjab are certainly prime reasons for adding to the woes of the residents. Therefore, those who are in a position of authority, regardless of which party they represent, must roll up their sleeves and go down to the trenches so as to arrest the menace on hand.
Former Chief Executive Councillor of Delhi, the late Jag Parvesh Chandra’s repeated refrain was that everybody treats Delhi as their mistress and not as their legally wedded wife. This is apparent in how its citizens respond to the semi-catastrophic situations that recur with regular frequency. The majority of those who reside in the capital, evidently do not consider it to be their home. Home, for them, is where they originally hail from. It could be in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Bengal or Maharashtra. This, to a great degree, explains their apathy cum detachment from the city and its multiple problems. They tend to forget that most of the issues in the city have their origins elsewhere, but Delhi, which has a large heart, has always managed to accommodate varied kinds of demands made on it.
The colossal matter confronting the city is that of over-population. Unofficially, there are nearly 30 million people residing in different parts, though going by the official data, the figure is ten million less. There is an inadequate infrastructure and thereby, every facility that is extended by the Centre or the state falls far below the requisite requirement. Major hospitals like the Safdarjung and LNJPN are deluged by patients coming from adjoining and sometimes even distant places. It goes without saying that medical facilities should be provided to each and every citizen of the country, but no questions are ever asked as to why the states that send patients to Delhi are lacking in setting up their own hospitals and health clinics. The present Delhi government has done an exemplary job in their mohalla clinic scheme, something which should be emulated by other states as well.
The short point is that when errant state governments falter, the burden is shifted to other regions, which, as a consequence, have to bear the brunt. The over-population in the capital is due to the fact that the places from where the majority of the migrants pour in from do not have the primary infrastructure. Generally speaking, no one likes to leave their home, and if they do so, it is solely in pursuit of the betterment of life. Therefore, migrants live here both out of compulsion, as also due to the failure of their respective governments to provide the needful. Their presence is largely a reflection on the kind of governance provided in their places of origin.
Unlike Mumbai, where there exists a Shiv Sena and similar outfits that constantly make life difficult for migrants, Delhi has always welcomed everyone with open arms, and hence today, is paying the price. The Yamuna, which used to flow with a bounty of water, is today like a mucky nullah, that during the monsoons throws up filthy and polluted content. The levels of cleanliness in the capital are far below acceptable standards and the number of vehicles that ply on the roads are far more than those that run in all the other metropolitan centres put together.
The odd/even number scheme or similar arrangements, are only short term programmes; long term solutions can solely be found if various political outfits sit down together and work out means of decongesting the city. Many years ago, the Centre had mooted the proposal of setting up satellite towns in the National Capital Region. The idea never got off its feet due to bureaucratic hurdles and the lack of political will on part of the stake holders, which include several state governments such as Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana.
The annual influx into the city outnumbers the internal increase in the population. Over-population, has in fact, disrupted the ecological balance; green spaces are diminishing with rapidity, and one wonders what happened to the trees which supposedly were planted during Sheila Dikshit’s 15-year tenure as Chief Minister. Evidently, everything was done on e-paper. The overhanging and engulfing smog over the city would be non-existent had there been fewer people breathing the same air, and had its open spaces not been encroached by builders or resettlements that crop up for facilitating electoral victories.
The current situation should be treated as a national emergency, and the Centre, without further delay, should convene a meeting of stakeholders to find answers, however unpalatable. The Kejriwal government in Delhi and the Central government have to work hand-in-hand, so as to highlight that citizens always come first and politics is secondary.