A well-considered approach to infrastructure and congestion is likely to be more beneficial than flailing at problems.
Shyam Ponappa | December 31, 2015
There are better ways to improve our seemingly primordial problems of infrastructure than having populists play at reforms as though they were board games. Issues like pollution and traffic in Delhi need urgent attention, but they have been brewing for so long that there's no use in merely flailing at them. Impetuous executive or judicial orders like the odd-even numbers scheme for cars or prohibiting diesel car registration result in massive disruption and loss with few benefits, going by many recent assessments. Also, consider that some long-term initiatives such as the Delhi Metro are successful, although there have been monumental failures too, such as the Bus Rapid Transit System. But actions affecting infrastructure have such huge unintended consequences that people should be spared experiments with insufficient preparation. That's at the city level, although Delhi's scale is like a country in population and complexity. Then, there are the higher order complexities of the national-scale transportation, energy, or communications, just by way of essential services.
While the tyre-shredding threat seems draconian, such systems are widely deployed and accepted where needed across the "free world". We rarely see such devices here, but imagine their salutary effect on habits like driving down the wrong side if there were recessed "tyre-shredders" along the way, or at least a stiff fine triggered by a surveillance camera.
In a similar vein, Delhi is reviving the notion of vacuuming streets with vehicular cleaners, as street sweeping is a significant contributor to suspended particulates.1 Press reports suggest, however, that a major reason previous attempts failed except in the limited confines of the New Delhi Municipal Corporation ("Lutyens Delhi") was because parked vehicles made roads inaccessible. There were other problems too, such as broken and uneven surfaces, but parked vehicles preventing street cleaning would be unimaginable in cities in most parts of the world. The vehicles would have been towed if they were parked on the street to be cleaned, and the cleaning would have been done.
In other words, the laws and procedures need to be followed, or enforced. Our problems stem from few of our existing laws being enforced. Yet, our political leaders are gung ho about devising new procedures or tub-thumping about catchwords and concepts, showing little interest in the humdrum details and practicalities of execution. Wouldn't it be nice, though, if the media and the press focused coverage across the board on actual performance versus bombastic promises or personal slanging matches?
A Comprehensive Long-Term Strategy
What is surprising is that there hasn't been more emphasis on boosting solar energy to replace polluting diesel generators.1 Another missing initiative is the systematic cultivation of indoor plants to mitigate the effects of atmospheric pollution, although Delhi apparently has the iconic green building that uses common plants to operate a clean air circulation system2. A comprehensive strategy needs to cover many areas in an integrated way: improve public transport, reduce diesel vehicles and high-emissions two- and four-wheelers, enhance car-pooling, improve clean power supply, reduce waste incineration, develop solar generators/inverters, among others.
shyam (no-space) ponappa at gmail dot com
1: Dust constitutes 45% of PM10, waste burning 17%, diesel generators 9%, and transport 14%. If no diesel generators run, the likely reduction in PM2.5 would be 16%: http://urbanemissions.blogspot.in/2015/04/infographic-are-we-chasing-right.html - Sarath Guttikunda