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Delhi is crumbling under its own weight

December 18, 2019 10:36 IST

While Delhi boasts of one of the best metro systems in the world and decent infrastructure, reckless construction, legalising unauthorised colonies, and the worsening water and air quality dent its image of being a robust cosmopolitan city.

The first of a five-part series takes stock of Delhi, the power centre and cultural melting pot of India, to find that it needs an overhaul.

Megha Manchanda reports.

Delhi pollution

Photograph: Manvender Vashist/PTI Photo

Death of 43 persons in a plastic factory fire on Sunday (December 8) may be the worst in two decades, but reckless construction, legalising unauthorised colonies, and the worsening water and air quality count among Delhi’s capital woes.

Operating in a residential colony in Rani Jhansi Road in north-west Delhi, the unit was one of the several such factories that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

 

While Delhi boasts of one of the best metro systems in the world and decent infrastructure, this underbelly dents its image of being a robust cosmopolitan city.

“The enforcement of regulation for buildings should be a must, there is also collusion between regulators and users.

"Due to this such incidents happen. If this is the case in Delhi, we cannot imagine the plight of Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities,” said Pranavant, partner, Deloitte India.

According to Varsha Joshi, commissioner, North Delhi Municipal Corporation, additional commissioner Sandip Jacques is conducting an inquiry into the matter.

“We shall act on each and every finding,” she tweeted on Monday.

Authorising illegal colonies, by both the Central and state governments, mainly with an eye on political gains, adds to the problem.

On October 23, the Union Cabinet approved the regulations recognising ownership or transfer rights to residents of unauthorised colonies (UCs) in Delhi.

The state elections are due early next year and the decision will benefit more than 400,000 residents of unauthorised colonies spread over around 175 square kilometre.

The regularisation allows them to have access to municipal services, which could translate into better health conditions but at the same time pressure the infrastructure in the city.

The air quality in the national capital improved a bit at the start of this month but with the drop in temperatures in the following days, it has again deteriorated to "hazardous" level.

The air quality index was 302.

In November, the pollution levels peaked following which the Supreme Court on November 2 pulled up authorities from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi for failing to control crop stubble burning in their states, which is considered as one of the reasons for soaring pollution levels in New Delhi and the national capital region.

People in Delhi "can't be left to die" due to air pollution, the court observed.

To tackle the problem of pollution in the city, the Delhi government brought in the road rationing scheme from November 4-16 which allowed plying of vehicles with odd and even numbers on alternate days.

The scheme has come in for criticism for addressing the problem only “partially”, though the magnitude is much higher and requires a holistic solution.

Even in the summer months, when pollution levels are generally believed to be lower because higher temperature leads to pollutants moving out of the immediate atmosphere, a study conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said based on the daily ozone data released by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) for the period April 1-June 15, 2019, the Capital witnessed searing temperatures, averaging ozone levels exceeded the prescribed standard on 16 per cent of the days overall – as compared to 5 per cent of the days during the same period in 2018.

The eight-hour average standard for ozone exposure is 100 microgram per cubic metre (cu m).

In several residential and industrial locations, the number of days crossing the limit was very high - ranging from 53 to 92 per cent of the days.

“This is a matter of serious concern as ozone is a highly reactive gas and can have immediate adverse effect on those suffering from asthma and respiratory conditions," CSE executive director (research and advocacy)  Anumita Roychowdhury said.

Under an earlier Supreme Court order, the entire NCR region has a Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) which required to be put in place the moment air quality crosses a threshold.

Alongside, the issue of water quality and availability of piped water has created a political uproar.

According to Census 2011, only 18 per cent or 625,000 households in the capital city have piped water supply, lower than 32 per cent of households.

Union Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan raked up controversy when he released a study conducted by the Bureau of Indian Standards that said the Delhi water quality was the worst.

Tests done on 11 samples of drinking water for organoleptic and physical quality, chemical, toxicity and bacteria failed to comply with the BIS requirements in one or more parameters.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, however, questioned the authenticity of the BIS reports alleging that they were not collected from the reported persons but were taken from house of a person close to the minister.

The Delhi Jal Board, the sole piped water supplier in the city, too, claimed last week that 98.19 per cent of the 4,204 samples, the board collected from across the city were found to be fit for drinking.

Nonetheless, despite Delhi's posh Khan Market in the city’s heart being among the world's top-20 most expensive retail locations in the world, according to global property consultant Cushman & Wakefield, the city is crumbling under its own weight.

Megha Manchanda in New Delhi
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