Probably the first chief minister of Delhi to have taken a keen interest in the environment, Shiela Dixit has got a mixed response for her efforts. While a large number of people have come forward to participate in her Bhagidari (partnership) programme, her government has completely failed in finding a solution to the problem of getting the Delhi Transport Corporation (dtc) buses converted to compressed natural gas ( cng ). In an interview with Amit Shanker, Dixit puts the blame squarely on the ministry of petroleum and the manufacturers of buses who she says have failed to fulfil their promises
What have been your achievements in improving Delhi's environment ?
I think the air quality in Delhi has improved in the last couple of months since we have banned the use of polluting vehicles. The Yamuna is getting a lesser load of pollutants. However, it is not as clean as we would like it to be. We have closed down several polluting units which were dumping untreated waste into the river. We have made it mandatory for all the industrial units to put up common effluent treatment plants ( cetp s). The construction of two cetp s is nearing completion. We still need seven more, which we hope to complete by 2001. I am sure the water quality in the Yamuna will improve in the days to come.
However, there are still some sewage treatment plants that do not meet the prescribed standards. We are rectifying these problems.I have also asked the chief secretary to monitor the functioning of both the sewage treatment plants ( stp s) and the cetp s.
There is a general perception that the Delhi government acts only on court orders. Even the closure of the industries, that you have talked about, was ordered by the court.
That is not entirely true. We have taken effective steps on our own to improve the conditions in Delhi. However, there are many problems. For example, we want to discourage use of diesel and want vehicles to convert to cng , but the problem of availability of kits, availability of gas and availability of buses is impeding its use. Another reason for the slow progress is that the ministry of petroleum has been unable to provide adequate gas supply.
We also propose to give incentives to three-wheelers, such as zero sales tax and concessions in interest rates, to switch to cng . The task is no doubt a mammoth one, considering the large number of vehicles in Delhi and those that come from the satellite towns. If people cannot get their vehicles registered in Delhi, they simply go to Haryana or Uttar Pradesh where stringent regulations do not exist. So it is difficult to keep a check on them.
Why is the conversion rate of DTC buses so slow? Your government has often stated the high costs as an obstruction.
We have an action plan to convert 10,000 buses to cng by the year 2001. We also intend to buy 1,000 new buses. Unfortunately, all our plans have been bogged down by the non-availability of cng kits for converting old buses. We have had to float a global tender for cng buses as the two Indian manufacturers -- Ashok Leyland and Telco -- have not been able to fulfil our demands. Telco, I am told, has backed out so we are left with only one manufacturer. We have never said that we don't have the money. In fact, we have allocated Rs 2,000 crore for the transport sector alone. There are several offers from manufacturers, but we want to make sure that we get the best buses. One alternative we are exploring is the use of liquefied petroleum gas ( lpg ) for automobiles. If the Union government clears the safety aspects, then it could be considered.
For the first time there was a water riot in Delhi -- in Tikri village near Nangloi area on May 29. How do you plan to tackle Delhi's water problems?
Everyone knows that there is a water shortage in that area. These villagers also know that the Nangloi treatment plant is coming up shortly. The riot is nothing but politically motivated to defame the government. A 120 million gallon per day ( mgd ) water treatment plant is also being commissioned at Sonia Vihar, which will get water from the Tehri Dam by 2002.
However, the main problem is the bad water distribution system. These systems are old and archaic. A lot of water gets wasted. As a result, some areas get excess water and some don't get it at all. The uncontrolled growth of slums and colonies have increased the pressure on water considerably. Last year, we laid down 117 km of new pipelines and propose to do the same this year. The idea is to rationalise the distribution of water.
Are there any plans to harvest rainwater?
We have plans to bring changes in the building bylaws, wherein we will make it mandatory for all new buildings to construct water harvesting structures. We have initiated water harvesting at Najafgarh drain, Kanjhavala and Bhatti mines. However, it will take some time for these to become effective.For example, there is a problem of seepage at Bhatti mines. Water is difficult to store there because it seeps into the ground through large fissures in the rock. There are initial teething problems but we are intent on going ahead. We also plan to construct water harvesting structures at all the resettlement colonies. Simple structures like tanks will be able to catch rainwater.
What has been the problem with banning plastic bags?
There is no ban as such, but we are trying to involve everybody --even schoolchildren -- to avoid using plastic bags. It is an awareness campaign. We are coming up with an act to stop the manufacture of substandard plastic bags. As soon as the select committee clears this proposal, all these factories will be closed down.
What problems are you facing while implementing your plans for cleaning Delhi's environment ?
The main problem is Delhi's culture. There is little awareness among people about small things such as 'saying no to plastics' and conserving water. That is why we have started our campaign called Bhagidari. We want to involve people in making things better for themselves with our support. At one level we are trying to get people's involvement, and on the other, we are trying to make the bureaucracy realise that it is time to act. Just to change the mindset is a mammoth task and it will not happen overnight. We have to make a sustained effort.
Do you think you will be able to garner the support of the people of Delhi, considering the fact that more than 40 per cent of the residents are outsiders and have little affinity with the city ?
There has been a fairly positive response from the people of Delhi to our programmes, but I'm still not satisfied. Yes, Delhi is a little India, but there are also people who are committed. A sense of belonging needs to be cultivated among the rest. Wherever we can, we have to reach out to people.
Do you think environment is today an electoral issue? Digvijay Singh proved all the pollsters wrong by winning in Madhya Pradesh by the dint of his environment regeneration work among rural communities.
I'm not too sure whether it has become an issue in India as yet. The meaning of environment for those communities in Madhya Pradesh is entirely different from what it is for the residents of Delhi. The two situations cannot be compared. But I am optimistic and hope to make it an electoral issue.
Are you green by choice or by chance ?
I am green by choice, not by chance. It is very much a conscious effort as I have lived in Delhi for most of my life. I have seen this once beautiful city deteriorate to what it is today. I remember the days when the winter air was so fresh that all the children would have rosy cheeks, something which is now impossible to see. However, with the active participation of the people of Delhi, I hope to try and bring back some of that lost glory.
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