The introduction of Compressed Natural Gas in Delhi in the 1990s was applauded by environmentalists. But, all the good work seems to have been frittered away as the Centre for Science and Environment’s director general, Sunita Narain, on Wednesday said the city had been unsuccessful in reducing pollution levels.
“We had been vociferously demanding that CNG needs to be introduced in Delhi. But all the gains made by introducing CNG have been lost. The government is proposing to increase the price of CNG by April,” Ms. Narain said.
She said there was evidence to prove that “pollution levels have increased due to use of diesel, which is carcinogenic”.
“We have been pressurising the Union Finance Minister to tax diesel cars. Last time, SUVs had been taxed. But we want a huge tax on all diesel cars,” said Ms. Narain.
Though the Delhi Metro had been advantageous for the city, Ms. Narain said ‘last mile connectivity’ needed to be addressed.
“We need to have the right to walk and bicycle. Parking rates need to be augmented to discourage people from using vehicles. The fine imposed for illegal parking is only Rs.100. So there needs to be an amendment in the Motor Vehicles Act which needs to go through Parliament.”
To reduce the number of cars in Delhi, Ms. Narain wants more buses to ply within the city.
“We need to have more buses plying from Haryana to Delhi and Uttar Pradesh to Delhi,” she added.
She said the fact that Delhi’s pollution level is more than Beijing needed to set alarm bells ringing for those in the corridors of power. “Despite the heat and dust of politics, we do not hear anything related to the environment from political parties.”
Noting that both Delhi and Beijing had begun the fight against air pollution, Ms. Narain said while the Chinese city had taken decisive action, Delhi had lost its steam midway.
“From 2000 to 2008, Delhi undertook a number of steps. It introduced Euro-II and Euro-III emission standards, introduced unleaded petrol, implemented the largest ever CNG programme for buses, three-wheelers and two-wheelers and phased out 15-year-old commercial vehicles. But Delhi needs to take drastic measures like having cleaner fuel.”
Meanwhile, the CSE has refuted the findings of air quality monitoring agency IITM Safar, which said though emissions have increased by 10 to 20 per cent over the past four years, there is no systematic increase or decrease in air pollution.
The head of the CSE’s air pollution and clean transportation programme, Anumita Roychowdhury, said: “IITM Safar had concluded that Delhi’s peak pollution levels are lower than those of Beijing. This is incorrect. We should not miss the crucial point on the need for urgent pollution control to protect public health. This is not the time for complacency when pollution levels are unacceptably high.”
Ms. Roychowdhury added: “If we apply the air quality classification and health alert system of Beijing or the U.S. to Delhi this winter, this city would be in a frequent state of pollution emergency, requiring contingency action.”