(The Hindu) : After the Delhi experiment • It will take time and expertise to assess the odd-even experiment in Delhi, but there is no doubt that it was educative. It taught the government that the public is now ready to support radical measures on air pollution. • The odd-even experiment was the outcome of this inspiration. It established that Delhi can cope with an extreme situation arising out of multiple causes and conditions — some related to its geography, others to the compulsions of life that its citizens lead. • Dust caused by rampant construction, smog caused by industries and vehicular traffic, smoke from stubble-burning in the fields of Haryana and Punjab, and garbage in the city are among the well-recognised factors of its misery. This year, the misery hit a hurtful point. People stopped taking their morning walks and the lack of oxygen caused a feeling of chronic exhaustion. The judiciary built up the pressure that finally led the government to take some drastic steps. • Successive governments have ignored the growing crisis of Delhi’s environment. Despite expert advice, diesel-driven cars were promoted to fuel the demand for automobiles. The mistaken perception that diesel is a cheaper alternative to petrol was condoned and promoted. Delhi’s green cover suffered a heavy loss during the Commonwealth Games when the government permitted thousands of trees to be chopped by contractors who never fulfilled the promise they were asked to make that these trees would be replaced. • Delhi’s crisis may look rather specific, but it points to the price that any region might have to pay for mistaken policies that affect the environment. Air pollution is not an isolated phenomenon, nor can it be fully grasped by specialised analysis. Such an analysis will remain one-sided and it will lead to false hope that temporary cures, such as the odd-even formula, arouse. Problems of environment demand holistic inquiry and objective acknowledgement of mistakes made in the past. • The odd-even fortnight had a feel-good effect on Delhi’s citizenry. Children stayed at home as all schools stayed closed in order to let their buses be used as additional public transport. In its second week, the experiment was assisted by favourable weather conditions. This was also a period without weddings, so there were no crackers. The wedding season is now back, and thousands of crackers have started to fill the night sky with beautiful lights, loud explosions and toxic chemicals of Chinese origin. A sickly smog has started to cover the sky and the placid air at dawn is ready to choke the morning walker. Within a few weeks from now, thousands of deciduous trees will start dropping their leaves. On the spacious streets of Lutyen’s New Delhi where ministers and senior bureaucrats live, sweepers have been used to keeping the lawns clear of dry leaves. Their masters are never curious to know how these leaves are disposed off. No one likes to see them lying around and rotting, even if they add to the soil’s fertility. Since colonial times, they have been burnt and so shall they be this spring.




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