Pollution in Delhi: What the people need and what parties have promised

United Residents Joint Action (URJA), an apex body of 2500 residential welfare associations in the capital, has released ‘People’s Green Manifesto 2020’, which presents 10 key demands of Delhiites to manage air, water and solid waste pollution. But are the contesting parties even in sync?

This article is part of our special series on Delhi Elections 2020

In 2014, when the World Health Organisation declared Delhi as the world’s worst polluted city, the national capital became the face of air pollution for India. Since then, Delhi has been branded as a “gas chamber” by its own ruling government. Courts have called out the Delhi government for committing “genocide,” allowing a public health emergency of such mass scale. Every year since then, from Diwali and stubble burning season till the end of winter, politicians announce a slew of measures which fail to address the root cause of the problem. In November 2019, Delhi government had to declare a public health emergency despite an announcement of 25% reduction in air pollution just weeks before that. 

While the government’s measures are on-going, there is another stakeholder whose participation in this entire debate is crucial. According to Lancet Planetary Health, toxic air claimed 1.24 million lives in 2017 in India. That’s equivalent to 12.5% of total deaths recorded in the country that year. Air pollution is a collective fight, and therefore public engagement is paramount. In view of the same, United Residents Joint Action (URJA), the apex body of 2500 residential welfare associations in the capital, spearheaded this dialogue for the upcoming Assembly elections in Delhi. 

In the lead-up to Delhi elections, URJA released the ‘People’s Green Manifesto 2020’, which presents 10 key demands of Delhiites to manage air, water and solid waste pollution in a manner that will make the city resource-wise and sustainable by 2025. The citizens manifesto provides solutions, roadmap and time-bound targets to achieve demands like 65% reduction in air pollution levels by 2025 to meet the national standards for safeguarding public health, 100% clean energy for all by 2050, with 25% by 2025, public transport for at least 80% of Delhi’s population, promote electric mobility with 50% EVs in new vehicle registrations by 2025, zero waste to landfills by 2025 and a common regional minimum air-shed programme in consultation with NCR states, among others. It is the first time ever that pollution has figured so prominently in citizen demands for Delhi elections. 

While there’s hope that political parties will take note of these public demands, the buck stops at governance which focuses on Accountability, Review and Transparency. These three are the pillars of a democratic government and the People’s Green Manifesto focuses on all as a running theme. The newly elected Delhi government in 2020 should commit to local area planning and citizen monitoring to ensure government policies are relevant and implemented and government representatives are accessible to citizens. 

Another proposed mechanism relates to the setting up of an ombudsman body of eminent citizens as an independent public grievance redressal mechanism to maintain citizen and government engagement and transparency. Establishing a public information and feedback mechanism between people and government, before plans are implemented, will ensure a successful collaboration with ownership. 

BJP’s Delhi Sankalp Patra which was released last week proves that political parties are taking note that pollution cannot be ignored. The promise of “Swachh Delhi, Sundar Delhi” to provide a pollution-free city is a glittering start, but BJP’s reliance on large-scale and expensive air purification equipment as a solution makes the shine fade. While Indian National Congress has shown great commitment by promising 25% of the budget and a separate manifesto to environment, the ruling Aam Aadmi Party has left Delhiites wanting with a vague promise of reducing two-thirds of pollution in the city, in their 10 Promises Guarantee Card. AAP failed to make any mention of pollution as a keyword in their detailed manifesto which was released on April 4th. 

Delhi’s ‘airpocalypse’ needs serious scientific effort to reduce emissions from the neighbouring thermal power plants, industrial air and water effluents, a strategic transport management plan which incorporates public transport, shift to e-mobility, policies to discourage public from owning multiple 4-wheelers. India’s growth aspirations are hollow if the national capital is sitting on mountains of garbage within the city limits, which is not only poisoning groundwater reserves, but also polluting the air. 

Pollution has emerged as the biggest challenge of our times and a government that cares for the most vulnerable and the least equipped to protect themselves will lead the way to the Assembly. The spirit of one for all and all for one is of greatest urgency and relevance today that is also embodied in the People’s Green Manifesto 2020. Time for promising beginnings and political acknowledgments of issues like Pollution is past. Delhi demands a government with a vision for the city’s sustainable development and growth.

Issues People’s Green Manifesto Aam Aadmi Party Bharatiya Janata Party Indian National Congress
Protect citizens from pollution and risks Ensure 65% reduction in air pollution

Ensure air pollution doesn’t reach severe level in 2020

Ward-level healthcare facilities for population vulnerable to pollution

  • Pollution-free Delhi
  • At least 3 times reduction in air pollution
  • Affordable and accessible health care for every household through modern hospitals and Mohalla clinics
  • Healthcare services from government hospitals for environmental illnesses
  • Environmental health courses in schools and colleges will help build awareness
  • Reliance on large-scale and expensive air purification equipment whose effectiveness is not proven
  • Barriers in schools for air pollution which are untested for effectiveness
  • All street light poles to have pollution monitoring equipment
  • Allocated 25% of Delhi’s budget to fight pollution
  • Strengthen Delhi Pollution Control Committee with staff, equipment, training and funds for adhering to global best practices in pollution control and reduction
  • Clear and coordinated instructions to local area administration
  • Follow guidelines of EPCA set up by Supreme Court in reducing pollution
  • Students will be encouraged to volunteer as Environment Ambassadors
100% Clean Electricity for All 24×7 supply and usage-based pricing

Legislations for clean electricity

Cleaner conventional electricity in the interim

25% pollution-free electricity by 2025

  • 24×7 electricity supply to all, with 200 units of free supply
  • Underground cabling for electricity to every household
  • Solar energy promotion without targets and mention of storage systems
  • Pursuit of electricity self-sufficiency without clarity on energy source
  • Promise of reliable & smart electricity grid (will impact use of diesel generators)
  • Cash rebate to households conserving electricity and assured connection to each building
  • Rooftop solar promotion without targets
Public Transport for 80% population Deploy 15,000 buses by 2025; Remove old buses from the fleet

Reduce pricing of public transport to shift commuters from private vehicles

Every neighborhood or commercial to be aided with fast & last mile connectivity to public

transport stations

Integrate all modes of public transport under one authority for coordinated planning

Pricing cheaper than private vehicle per km & introduce common smart card across all modes of public transport

Create commuter government review committee

Ensure public safety

  • Largest and most affordable public transport system
  • More than 11,000 buses and over 500km of metro line
  • Free bus service facility for female passengers and students
  • Increase in buses by 10,000 units, expedited completion of metro lines and new metro/train services in Delhi & NCR
  • Review of bus routes and increase in all feeder services including e-rickshaws/ auto-rickshaws for connectivity
  • Public transport will be developed to seamlessly carry 80% of the population
  • Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority for coordinated planning all modes of transport
  • Review of bus routes & numbers for easy access to commuters, procuring 15000 buses
  • Every residential/ commercial area to be within walking distance of public transport or on-call e-rickshaws for first/last mile connectivity
  • Footpaths, lifts, escalators and inter-mode connectivity to public transport
  • Commuter-government committee to review the quality and utility of public transport and first/last mile connectivity
Decongest Delhi Ensure adequacy of public transport with 80% of trips to be through public transport

Parking space management by RWAs and market association

Private ownership vehicle to reduce by 2025

Scientific approach to design/ retrofitting of new/existing parking places

Adjust road design to incentivize public & nonmotorized transport, & make it pedestrian friendly

Comprehensive Mobility Plan to move maximum people rather than vehicles

No promises Dedicated cycle ways that will help 35% cycle-owner population of Delhi
Multi-storey parking spaces; not clarified if it is for public transport or private vehicles. (EPCA recommends to reduce private vehicles rather than increase parking space for the)
New scheme to build flyovers for de-congestion when Delhi ranks 8th in the world on congestion index with over 70 existing flyovers
Safety of citizens in public areas, public transport and dark areas that will help to reduce private vehicle use
  • Air-conditioned buses to shift public from private vehicles
  • Cycling tracks designed as per global standards where feasible
  • Adjustment to road design to incentivise public and non-motorised transport over private vehicles and reduce congestion
  • Strengthening of current parking policy and immediate implementation with transparency
  • Roadmap to achieve negative growth rate in private 4-wheeler vehicle ownership by 2025
Clean & smart 21st century vehicles 50% of EV in new vehicle registration by 2025

All new government vehicles procured to be electric from 2020

City-wide charging services and battery handling service

Incentives for EV owners

Regulators to enable DISCOMS, small and large vendors to offer battery recharge points

Used battery replacement centres in every assembly area for recycling/safe handling

  • Delhi’s Electric Vehicles Policy launched in December 2019 to achieve 25% share for EVs in new registrations by 2023
  • System of fee and rebate to facilitate transition from conventional vehicles to electric
  • Incentives to electric vehicles & set-up of charging stations without targets
  • Efforts to reduce use of petrol & diesel vehicles without clear steps & targets
  • Increase in CNG stations
  • Entire 1100 crore ECC fund will be spent to make Delhi the EV city of India through Delhi Electric Vehicles Initiative (DEVI)
  • 15,000 electric zero pollution buses will replace existing buses in phased manner
  • 1000 or more charging stations in dispersed locations from DISCOMs, vendors, etc
  • Financial incentives for EVs to compete with conventional vehicles will help 6/10 buyers willing to switch to EVs as per Deloitte survey
  • All government vehicle procurement from 2021 being electric will lead the transition
  • Increase in ambition of Delhi’s EV policy to 50% for all new vehicle registrations in 2025 in order to reduce pollution
  • Incentives & dedicated infrastructure to large fleet owners to procure/convert to EVs
  • Local centres for batteries will be set up
  • Overhaul of PUC system to test all vehicles on real-world driving emissions for all key pollutants will curtail pollution
Roadmap for zero waste Delhi Zero waste system for the city

Ward level plan for waste management with local targets for waste segregation at source, collection and disposal

All government building to be zero waste

Local waste management with public knowledge

Clean and shining Delhi – Freedom from garbage and debris dumps for a clean and beautiful city
  • Cooperation with RWAs to convert biodegradable waste into compost for parks
  • Wealth and resource creation from landfills of Gazipur, Bhalswa, Okhla and removal of heaps of garbage (without mentioning specific technology or end output which determines reduction or addition to pollution)
  • Piped cooking gas to households will avoid burning of biomass
  • State government offices to lead the city by generating Zero Waste by 2025
  • Incentives & guidelines for large institutions & companies to generate Zero Waste by 2025
  • Campaign to ensure 100% segregation at household level in 2 years
  • Bio-methanation plants at vegetable & fruit wholesale markets and large institutions
Water security for all Ward level planning for wastewater recycling and ground water recharge

System for zero wastewater loss and 100% rainwater recharge

Create groundwater sanctuaries & decentralized water reservoirs

Hefty penalty on for carrier on water transit loss and blackmarketing

  • Tap water in every household
  • 24 hour clean water supply to every household
  • 20,000 litres of water free every month to households
None mentioned None mentioned
Humane approach to city’s water bodies Dismantle defunct ITO barrage gates to enable free flow of river Yamuna

Implement NGT orders for clean river water

Najafargh drain to be revived

Ensure proper functioning of all STPs & ETPs

Restore hygiene in flood plains & storm water drains with access to citizen for walkways, cycle track, leisure

  • Yamuna river will flow clean and uninterrupted
  • Sewage network in unauthorized colonies being regularized
 None mentioned None mentioned
Green, dust-free walkable city Protect, rejuvenate and build urban forests, greenbelts and wildlife sanctuary

No felling of trees for infrastructure projects

Develop Ecology Masterplan for 2025 & 2041

Establish a Walkway & Pedestrian Authority

Deploy road-dust cleaner

More than 2 crore trees will be planted to make Delhi green
  • Green pedestrian walkways, convenient footpaths and foot-over bridges, though FOBs need to be last option amongst all road crossings
  • Conservation of all forest lands, ridge areas and increase in green cover with fruitbearing/ medicinal trees
  • Central government policies implementation, mechanized sweeping and water sprinkling (which suppresses dust temporarily with heavy consumption of diesel & water without solving the problem)
  • Increase green cover to 30% of Delhi’s area
  • Legislation amendment to not allow treefelling for infrastructure projects
  • 50 lakh trees planted every year with quarterly reporting on survival rates
  • Build, conserve and rejuvenate urban forests, sanctuaries, greenbelts and parks
  • Financial incentives for large campuses and farmers to adopt urban agro-forestry
  • Wide and paved footpaths on roads without them currently and cycling tracks where feasible
  • Sensor-based technologies for immediate alert when dust levels go high and daily reporting
  • Digital map of areas in Delhi’s air-shed with harmful dust and management work-plan
  • Enforcement of rule to keep dug-up spaces covered always and avoid repeated digging
Delhi and neighbours tackling pollution together Regional common minimum air-shed programme by neighboring states

Coordination with thermal power plants in the air-shed for emission norms compliance

Regional shared water resources program for water quality, flow and contamination management

Inter-state coordination mechanism at the level of chief secretaries for swift decision making

No promises No promises
  • Inter-state coordination mechanism at the level of Chief Secretaries of NCT Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, UP, Rajasthan, and Uttarakhand for a Regional Common Minimum Air-shed Program on air pollution action plans enforcement
  • NCRPB to effect convergence in economic, infrastructure and social development for transport, roads, electricity, industries, land use, forests, etc.

Source: URJA

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