Academic journal article Journal of Management and Public Policy

Oddity of Managing Air Pollution in Delhi: Public Policy Myopia

Academic journal article Journal of Management and Public Policy

Oddity of Managing Air Pollution in Delhi: Public Policy Myopia

Article excerpt

'To choke on your own fumes is one of the worst travesties a nation could inflict upon itself''

-Arun Purie, India Today, 28 December 2015


The Government of Delhi has decided to use a quick fix solution to resolve a long-standing issue of worsening air quality in the city under pressure from the court by restricting mobility of cars based on odd-even registration numbers on odd-even dates from 1 January 2016 -a move intended to cut vehicle emission by half (Richardson, 2015). It has been observed in media that the government reacted to court's admonition that 'living in Delhi is like living in a gas chamber' -thus odd-even formula is a reaction plan rather than an action plan...without calling for the public debate and considering the pros and cons....(Suresh, 2015).

While every citizen of Delhi is concerned about rising air pollution that threatens survival, majority view is opposed to the government's knee -jerk reaction in implementing odd-even formula without much thought. We do not have definitive evidences regarding significant reduction in levels of air pollution by such experiments in the past in various cities such as Paris, Mexico City, Bogota, Beijing, etc. (Richardson, 2015; Pradhan, 2015). Besides, vehicular pollution is only a small contributor to hazardous air quality in the city as indicated by widely acclaimed research of Goel and Guttikunda (2015). Hence it is right time to look beyond short - term view of odd-even formula and make a concerted effort to understand the gravity of current scenario vis-à-vis air quality in Delhi, the root causes of air pollution and how it can be managed with a long-term perspective.

Unfolding 'Delhi as Gas Chamber' Metaphor

Level of air pollution in the city has crossed the maximum limit which can be measured by Delhi Pollution Control Committee. According to a report published in India Today, 'a Delhi resident is today exposed to an average of 153 micrograms per cubic meter of PM 2.5 -the smallest and most harmful of all measurable particulate matter -which is 15 times higher than the WHO's recommended annual average (Pradhan, 2015). Probably this is the extreme scenario which prompted the Delhi High Court to declare the city as gas chamber. Media reports indicate that the level of hazardous particulate matter in air is 10-16 times higher than what is considered safe for human breathing.

No wonder, around 10,000 people die prematurely each year due to rising pollution level in the city (Speaking Tree, 2015). Various scientific studies suggest that long-term exposure to nitrogen oxide emitted by vehicles my decrease lung function and increase the risk of respiratory systems (Dash, 2015). Doctors associate high levels of suspended particulate matter and sulphur dioxide with increased mortality, morbidity and impaired pulmonary function as fine particulates penetrate the respiratory system and alter immune system, impair liver, cause brain damage in children resulting in lower IQ, hyperactivity and lower concentration (Pradhan, 2015).

Dev (2015) reports 'an eight-year study from 2008-2015, conducted by IIT Roorkee, University of Minnesota, US, and University of Surrey, UK has shown that emissions from vehicles in Delhi have increased up to three times between 1991 and 2011; these could rise by up to 19 times by 2020. Further, 'private vehicles' (two wheelers and cars) -carbon dioxide, hydro carbons, PM 10, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and toxic substances like butadiene, acetaldehyde, benzene, formaldehyde, total aldehyde and total poly aromatic hydrocarbons have increased by 2-13 times in 2011 2-16 times in 2015 over 1991 levels'.

'Comprehensive Study on Air Pollution and Green House Gases in Delhi' conducted by IIT Kanpur, indicates a very high levels of an extremely toxic group of 100 chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) emitted mainly due to incomplete combustion (Nandi, 2015). PAHs are carcinogen, mutagen and reproductive toxin which can affect lung function, cause chest pain, irritation and adversely affect reproductive system as a result of long term exposure (Nandi, 2015). …

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