Capital comment

With cheap and dirty diesel around the new CM cannot clean up Delhi's air

Published: Monday 15 February 1999

The housewives' delight - onions - sells for Rs. 12 per kg now, a big fall from the highly elevated status and inflated price it enjoyed under the previous Bharatiya Janata Party government. Onions then sold for Rs 60 per kg. Mrs Khanna, a housewife who lives in Nizamudin East, is overjoyed. The Congress government is doing a good job she feels. Her neighbour Mrs Dikshit is a great chief minister. Mrs Khanna has little time to worry about issues like air pollution. Onions are more important to her. Still, at times, she does get a bit of a nagging cough and a sore throat.

Her neighbour, the Chief Minister of Delhi Sheila Dikshit, is worried about pollution. She has been candid enough to tell industry to stay out of town. Industry is the last thing Delhi needs. She admitted this at a meeting held recently by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). Industry would not be welcome to set up shop in Delhi, she said. It is a well-known fact that industry contributes to air and water pollution. The lady is right. She has taken the right stand. Delhi is already the most polluted city in the world.

Mrs Dikshit has decided to speak up. But Suresh Prabhu Union Environment Minister is strangely silent on an issue very close to his portfolio, namely, air pollution which affects the state of the environment in Delhi. It is bound to get worse unless Mr Prabhu speaks up and takes a stand. The timing is just right. He must speak up now or forever hold his breath. For the Union government has just decided to decrease the price of diesel.

Mrs Khanna's cough could be due to living in a city where the air quality is no longer conducive the good health. Emissions from diesel vehicles contribute to this in a big way. They are known to contain very minute particles, lethal for every breathing being. These emissions also contain some of the world's deadliest carcinogens.

By reducing the price of dirty diesel the government has passed on the benefit of the fall in the international price of oil to the consumer. This has not been done for petrol.

This will have a singular effect. Emissions from diesel vehicles will go up and so will the number of diesel vehicles, for two reasons. Firstly, people will prefer to buy the new range of cheap diesel cars-even a scooter may become more expensive to run - and secondly, manufacturers will prefer to make more diesel cars as the demand for them will go up. Mrs Khanna is probably already planning to dump her petrol version of four wheels for a new, cute, little diesel car. It would be foolhardy to think that she is an exception.

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