Clean Up Officialdom
The anti-pollution action in Delhi should first target the filth in the Government
By Tavleen Singh
There is something disgusting about the zeal with which government inspectors, protected by the police, have swept through Delhi in recent days ostensibly "sealing" polluting factories. Heartlessly oblivious to the cries of suddenly jobless workers, oblivious to the suicide by a businessman who allegedly could not survive his factory being closed down, oblivious even to the angry protests by local MPs and MLAs. But this is all in a good cause you will say. After all, shouldn't the citizens of Delhi be entitled to clean air. So, how can it be called disgusting?
For a start, because Delhi's air is not going to become any cleaner by closing a few factories down. More than 60 per cent of the pollution in the city's air is caused by vehicular traffic. Nobody has been able to do anything about this because the Supreme Court's order last year that polluting government buses be taken off the road has been ignored. The Delhi Government was given nearly three years to ensure its buses converted to compressed natural gas but governments can get away with things that ordinary citizens cannot, so nothing was done. Government employees are also more powerful than ordinary citizens, so when they took to the streets to protest against eight-year-old buses being withdrawn from service they succeeded. The buses continue to vomit their pollutants into Delhi's air and the protesting workers continue to keep their jobs.
With the best intentions in the world the Supreme Court also tried to get the Delhi Government to clean the Yamuna but the river continues to be a sewer and will in all likelihood remain that way. So, how is it that the move to close the factories down has been seemingly so successful? The simple answer to that question: there is money to be made.
If you can afford to pay off the inspectors when they come with their seals you can pollute as much as you like and still remain open. So, ever since the business of closing down factories began much money has exchanged hands. Even factories that are not responsible for pollution of any kind and have certificates to prove this have to pay. Otherwise the inspectors quite simply refuse to recognise their non-pollution certificates.
Often factory owners pay the bribes the inspectors demand because many of these factories are in so-called residential areas. In fact, they are now mostly industrial areas but since this is not recognised by the Delhi Master Plan these areas continue to be declared residential. You can stay open as long as you have enough money for bribes. The end result of the drive is that thousands of very poor workers will lose their jobs and be forced back into the poverty of their villages, thousands of small entrepreneurs will be out of business and Delhi will remain as polluted as ever. Who is to blame? Not the Supreme Court because it is clearly trying hard to clean up Delhi's environment. Not the factory owners who built their factories in the wrong place because they had no choice. Not even the corrupt inspectors because corruption to them is a way of life. No, the blame lies entirely with the Delhi Government and with governments in general.
Were they sleeping when these illegal factories and vast illegal industrial estates were being built? Why didn't someone put a stop to things earlier? Shouldn't someone be trying to punish the officials who closed their eyes to what was going on when it could have been stopped? Should not governments that have been unable to provide the basic necessities of urban life-drinking water, sanitation, electricity-be punished for their failures? Would somebody like to go to the Supreme Court with another public-interest litigation to demand these things?
While we are about it should we not consider litigation to demand that Lutyens' Delhi, that most exalted of exalted residential areas in the capital, be cleansed of officials and politicians? What right do they have to live like princes, off taxpayers money, in the best part of town when they are unable to provide a halfway decent standard of living to the citizens of this country.
The Supreme Court, with the best of intentions, has ended up being responsible for turning their guns against the most helpless people in Delhi. It is a move that has gone seriously awry and with no obvious benefit to anyone except the armies of corrupt officials. If the court is serious about cleaning up Delhi's environment then let it train its guns on the real criminals: government officials and agencies. If polluting factories can be closed so easily then it should be as easy to order the Delhi Government to take its filthy buses off the roads and if government employees lose their jobs so be it. We cannot have one set of rules for ordinary Indians and another for the government. Democracy is about rights not privileges.