Why is it so difficult to control pollution in metro cities like Delhi and Lucknow? Is there a lack of will? More likely, it is a helpless situation! If we take the case of the two cities in question, both have witnessed unplanned and unauthorized development forced by circumstances. The rate of migration to these two cities has been shocking in the past two decades. It brought with it the problem of housing and settlement. The jhuggis and the illegal settlements you see around you have not sprung up in a day. So, you will see some legally constructed residential colonies with viable civic amenities as well as illegally occupied public spaces in a single ward. These illegal occupants either ‘steal’ basic civic amenities or ‘get’ them from the local corporators in return for vote. At many places, such illegal occupants start their own means of livelihood that are equally illegal, like sawmills, ply-making units, butcher houses, cattle/goat shelters, dying units and cracker-making units and even godowns. Being unauthorized, they do not and cannot follow the safety norms needed to operate such units, and thus turn out to be the major source of local air pollution. It is a pity that the public representatives as well as the local administration, including area police, fail to ‘recognise’ their ‘contribution’ to the problem and continue to patronize them in lieu of cuts and commissions.
It is here that you will see maximum burning of waste (because they cannot use the authorized set-up), extensive emission of hazardous gases from below-the-norm sized chimneys and outlets (because they wish to stay anonymous) and regardless of flouting of all pollution control rules. As they do not ‘exist’ for the authorities concerned, their activities go unmonitored. Even when a complaint is lodged against such unit-owners, the officials concerned take no action (maybe because of political pressure because the settlements might be illegal but each member of that settlement is a legal voter and politicians have their vested interests). Hence it is simply a case of helplessness.
Then there are some blatant cases that do not go unnoticed but are too hot to handle. Here the judiciary intervenes but can only direct to take action. Even when the court passes orders for the shut down or relocation of air/water polluting units, the government finds it impossible to enforce the order, as is the case with tanneries in Kanpur, and sawmills and ply factories in Lucknow. Either there is no land to spare for their relocation or the ‘offenders’ are not willing to abide by the orders. So they demonstrate, protest and cause the situation to turn ugly, thus easily getting what they want— a ‘right’ to illegal existence. The officials also look helpless claiming they cannot shift them by force! It is quite funny that when the government embarks on plans like construction of metros, expressways and smart cities, they are able to ‘convince’ people, mainly villagers, to give up their fertile lands in return for ‘petty’ compensation while the same government stands helpless in front of a bunch of illegal occupants who not only grab public spaces but flout all laws, whether civic or environmental. Does the government really think it can improve the air quality in cities merely by going all out on vehicle-owners and ‘parali’ (crop) burners? Saumya Misra