There has been a lot of talk regarding the rising pollution levels in the national capital and how several western embassies have taken steps to keep children studying in schools run by them safe in the increasingly poisonous environment. What is startling is that people are surprised that this is happening to Delhi which has been the seat of power of the Central government for such a long time. While environmentalists are diagnosing the problem and advising that children and senior citizens should stay indoors to partially escape the danger, policymakers need to wake up and save the city before it is too late.
The world has been watching what Chennai is going through and the misery of the people has been amplified because of the callousness and greed of successive governments which allowed construction activity at various places including riverbeds and canals. The result is that the entire city has become a swimming pool, as one newspaper stated. Thankfully, there has been no looting and law and order problem in Chennai, perhaps because it is in the early stages of evolving as a cosmopolitan centre. Had such a calamity struck Delhi, things would have been very different.
However, Delhi is facing problems that are unique and both the politicians and the bureaucrats are to directly blame for what is happening here. The capital has been witnessing a population growth of an alarming proportion. In addition to a growth of about five lakh annually from among its residents, the city has been receiving migrants in equal number from all parts of the country, particularly eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The present and anticipated infrastructure simply cannot hold so many people. The consequence is that those who are already living in the capital are bearing the burden of unchecked migration.
Every step taken by the Delhi government or the Centre proves to be inadequate, as no one has the courage to draw a blueprint to both check the inflow of the people into the capital and decongest the city, so that there is breathing space for everyone also in the metaphorical sense. Multiple plans have been drawn out in the past, but nothing has proved fruitful. The National Capital Region Planning Board exists solely on paper and in practice it has served no purpose.
The politicians say that they cannot stop anyone from coming into the city because it is everyone’s right to go wherever they wish. Yes, this is true as this has been laid out by the Constitution. But what about those who live here? Do they not have rights or are they not supposed to live comfortably without the fear of congestion or pollution in Delhi? Someone has to stand up for the citizens and say enough is enough. The City cannot take any more influx; it is bursting at its seams. It is evident and the growing numbers are adding to the existing problems rather than ironing out serious issues.
No one can deny that had Delhi’s population not been what it is, its worries would have also not been so acute. The adjoining townships of Gurgaon, Faridabad, Ghaziabad and NOIDA have not eased matters, but added to the woes. The infrastructure there as well is proving to be inadequate and people have already started complaining about poor water supply and an erratic power situation.
This is besides the increasing traffic, high pollution levels and deteriorating law and order problems. Someone needs to be answerable for all this.
The bureaucracy thrives in this state of confusion. The multiplicity of authority suits the babus more than anybody else. They continue to flourish and have secured their elevated status by increasing the number of posts for their cadres in the city administration. There are three corporations, which mean that there are three municipal commissioners whose subordinates take great pleasure in raising jurisdiction issues when a helpless citizen approaches them. The Delhi police is top heavy, with half the officers having little or no work, but all the privileges and perks.
The Delhi government babus raise their hands in helplessness when something important comes and blame it on the Centre, which, according to them, has the last word on every matter concerning Delhi. The Delhi Development Authority is a den of corruption and does not even know how much land it has or how many flats it has built ever since its inception. It turns a blind eye to anything objectionable. Important public sector undertakings like the DSIIDC, Delhi Tourism and Delhi Civil Supplies Corporation have abandoned their core objectives, but are engaged in selling liquor to augment their revenue.
Driving on the city’s roads has become a nightmare. Unaccounted number of vehicles and the congestion created both by vehicular traffic and the under construction Metro rail projects have increased driving time by manifolds over. Naturally, when more vehicles remain on roads for a longer period, the emission levels in the atmosphere would go up as well.
The hard fact is that the national capital is becoming unlivable. Unless the Centre, along with all political parties, reaches a consensus on saving the city, there is going to be no respite from several grim issues. Between us.