Delhi Pollution: Who is responsible?

India Gate covered by polluted air. Photo by NYT

By Dr. Javed Jamil

It has become a yearly ‘festival’. Come October, and the politicians and media will be “celebrating” the arrival of smoke in Delhi with all busy reveling in balming their political rivals for the happening. All kinds of reasons will be discussed. But none will point to the root causes of the problem. Everyone can be blamed but not the economic forces, which are ultimately responsible for whatever bad is happening to the climate of the world. None will offer solutions which can damage their short term or long term prospects. Solutions must be found which again help them in a big way.

See the following facts:

The population of Delhi has grown from 15,692,000 in the year 2000 to 32,066,000 in 2022, which means it has more than doubled in slightly over two decades. This also means that the air which was available for breathing to around 1.5 crore people 22 years back is now available to 3.2 crore people. This population has not increased due to any extraordinary fertility rate of Delhites but because, on account of the faulty policies (enjoyed by the market), the population is migrating swiftly from smaller towns to bigger cities.

Now see another fact. In the year 2000, there were 3456579 registered motor vehicles in Delhi. In 2020, there were almost 12 million registered motor vehicles. From around 34 lakhs the population of vehicles has grown to more than 1.2 crores. It again means that the pollution due to vehicles might have grown more than three times in just twenty years (even more than the population growth). Again nothing will be done to reduce their population. Human population in the country should stabilize even if children in the wombs of mothers are to be killed in big numbers. But nothing should be done to curb the population of vehicles. This will be totally unacceptable to the economic forces whatever the cost.

Another fact: Multi-storey buildings are ever on the rise to accommodate the increasing population. It means that in case there is a fifteen storey building, if previously an average of 5 people were occupying an area of around 150 sq metres, now 75 people are availing the same area and space above. All houses are using gases, air conditioners and vehicles and all are breathing in the space above the same land. They all are inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. Currently there are more than 5,200 high-rise buildings in the Delhi NCR area with thousands more under construction. But again none should talk of the destructive “developmental” plans.

Such is the control of the market forces on the functioning of the governments all over the world that even political leaders claiming to be people-friendly succumb, knowingly or unknowingly, to the interests of the market. Kejriwal who earlier appeared to be a people-friendly politician is now doing everything to please the market, with his liquor policy too being in question for several months. Previously he used to blame Punjab for the pollution; now with his government there, he is trying to build alternative theories.

Be it Odd-Even Formula, or introduction of thousands of new buses to the capital or exemption of CNG-driven vehicles, every single step is going to give a new boost to the already growing automobile market in India. According to a report, 37 million vehicles were sold in FY 2014-15, following a growth of 8.68 per cent over the last year.

With more than 3 crore vehicles flooding the market every year, it is not hard to imagine the havoc the automobiles are going to cause in India in coming decades. But thanks to the domination of the forces of economics and their growing “Economic Fundamentalism”, the forces of governance are more concerned for the growing human population than the growing vehicular population.

If the pollution is to be drastically controlled, the most ideal way will be to substantially reduce the production of vehicles in the country. And the easiest way to achieve this is to either totally ban or put substantial restrictions on the purchase of vehicles through Financing.

I could not find the exact percentage of vehicles purchased through finances in India, but I could find the reports from Europe, which give an idea of the role of financing in the automobile industry. A report says:

 “Experian Automotive today announced that consumers are relying on financing more than ever to buy their next vehicle. According to its latest State of the Automotive Finance Market report, the percentage of new vehicles purchased with financing in the fourth quarter of 2014 increased over the previous year to reach 84 percent. Used vehicles that were financed reached a record high of 55.2 percent.

Furthermore, the study shows that the average loan amount for a new vehicle in the fourth quarter of 2014 once again hit its highest level on record, reaching $28,381. This represents a more than $950 increase from a year ago and a $582 increase from the previous quarter. For used vehicles, the average loan amount increased $437 from last year to reach $18,411.”

It can be safely assumed that the percentages may be similar in India. If more than three fourth of the vehicles are purchased through financing, it is not difficult to infer how beneficial restrictions on financing can be for the country and its people.

Had Kejriwal even made a suggestion of doing something that had the possibility of adversely affecting the market, the media would have butchered him by now. BJP would have been on the roads.

If the pollution of the cities is to be kept in control, measures to reverse the migration to the bigger cities will have to be taken. New smaller cities should be built. Some institutions from capital cities will have to be shifted to new cities. Moreover, there should be a serious debate on the role of multi-storey buildings in enhancing pollution and many other problems. Rural development will have to be expedited.

But who will take note of my advices? Most probably none and these will be dismissed as nothing but barbaric.



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