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HT EDIT-Little clarity on policies, actions Inter-state political rivalry continues to affect Delhi’s air

November 05, 2019 04:07 AM


Little clarity on policies, actions
Inter-state political rivalry continues to affect Delhi’s air

The air pollution crisis in Delhi starkly highlights the inability of India to deal with complex problems — especially those that span states and Union territories ruled by political rivals. Delhi, the sufferer in this case, is the home of the central government (the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance) but governed by the Aam Aadmi Party. Punjab, the perpetrator by all accounts — there is now agreement that while not wholly responsible, the farm fires in Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh, and mostly in the first , are the main causes of air pollution in the capital — is governed by a Congress government. Especially with elections due in Delhi early next year, there is a whole lot of politics going on, even as Delhi chokes. The behaviour of our political class is, at best, callous and opportunistic and, at worst, irresponsible.

This is not to say the issue would have been resolved amicably and effectively had politics not come in the way. Delhi’s bad air is caused by multiple factors — the farm fires are the biggest contributor, but there are also significant contributions from desert dust, construction work, vehicle emissions, garbage burning, and other factors. All of these are accentuated by Delhi’s location, almost at the head of the plains and on the eastern end of the Thar, and the weather at this time of the year.

Given that farm fires do the most damage, and that most of them are in Punjab — Haryana seems to have got its act together this year — there has been little effort to understand the underlying causes. These are Punjab’s precarious water situation, which means that the sowing of the rice crop is delayed, reducing the window before the harvest of this and the following sowing season, and also the cropping pattern in the state (there has been some talk that replacing rice with some other crop may work). Nor has there been any attempt to understand why the Centre’s subsidy scheme for machinery that can deal with the stubble hasn’t been used more extensively in the state, and whether a more focused economic incentive will work better. And so, farmers have been allowed to burn the stubble. Sure there have been some fines levied, but it is a rare government in India that will come down hard on farmers, and the Punjab government is no exception. In some ways, the approach of three elected governments to the pollution crisis in Delhi is telling — it highlights the inadequacies of the State and of policies in dealing with problems that involve complex systems. Delhi’s bad air crisis spans issues related to agrarian economics, infrastructure development, environmental degradation, engine design, power sources, and garbage disposal — across states. Poor stewardship — perhaps a function of the problem’s cross-border nature — hasn’t helped

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