A meeting convened in Delhi — one of the most polluted cities in the world — to determine ways to deal with the situation that makes it, literally, difficult to breathe should have been top priority. Recently, schools had to be closed, traffic regulated and senior officials of the neighbouring states taken to task by the Supreme Court. Yet, most of the invitees to a Parliamentary Committee on Urban Development meeting decided to stay away. Only four MPs, out of a total of 21 Lok Sabha and eight Rajya Sabha members, showed up. Local MP and ex-cricketer Gautam Gambhir was among the absentees. Senior officials of the Municipal Corporation, the Delhi Development Authority and even the Ministry of Environment were absent too.
Political grandstanding followed, as did damage control by Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar. The matter is too serious to be about optics only. The discussion was to be on various government bodies’ role in reducing pollution. Till now, only half of the total 1.09 crore vehicles registered in Delhi get checked for pollution every year. The hike in fines has had some effect, but viable mass transport alternatives have to be provided to entice people away from personal vehicles. This issue needs attention, as does pollution caused by construction-related activities and road dust.
Even as financial resources are pumped into buying machines and persuading farmers to combat air pollution, there is lack of proper accounting to understand the efficacy of this measure that has cost the exchequer Rs 1,150 crore. The Supreme Court had observed that responsibility for losses due to air pollution should be fixed for officials at various levels of governance, starting with the heads of villages to senior IAS officers. The threat of punitive action often works. The callous indifference of the absentees is a manifestation of the inertia that has gripped the country, even as it chokes on the pollution created and exacerbated by its citizens. The attitude is stifling the future of the nation.