No end in sight for Delhi's transport crisis
NEW DELHI: Political leaders struggled Tuesday to find a way out of a transport crisis that has crippled the Capital, with thousands of polluting diesel buses banned from the streets.
Tens of thousands of commuters had a harrowing time trying to reach their places of work, while schools remained shut for a second day with no sign of the crisis ending soon.
Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dixit, Union Petroleum Minister Ram Naik, Law Minister Arun Jaitley and Environment Minister T R Balu were all due to meet Home Minister L K Advani to discuss ways of circumventing a Supreme Court ban on diesel buses.
Proposals on the table include promulgating a special ordinance to allow the buses to be redeployed, but constitutional experts said such a move was unworkable with Parliament still in session.
"As of now, we have ordered the closure of schools for today and tomorrow but if the situation warrants then we might even close them for some more time," Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dixit said.
The Delhi administration was expected to ask the Supreme Court to waive a daily Rs 500 fine on diesel-run buses found operating in the city.
More than 6,000 diesel-run buses had to be taken off the roads on Friday following the court order allowing only environment-friendly buses using Compressed Natural Gas.
The Delhi government has deployed a number of CNG-run mini-vans to try and ease the situation, but angry commuters were still left stranded at bus stops all over the city.
Polluted Delhi wants CNG, but BJP says no
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NEW DELHI: The Congress state government in Delhi swung into action on Monday to provide more buses using compressed natural gas (CNG), even as some Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders put in motion plans to circumvent the Supreme Court's order banishing diesel buses.
Six thousand buses stayed off the road in Delhi and schools were closed. But the state government said that the situation would improve from Wednesday when schools would begin reopening and bus routes had been restructured.
Madanlal Khurana and Sahib Singh Verma of the BJP who have been lobbying fortransporters said they wanted an ordinance permitting polluting buses to continue to ply in Delhi. They said they were in touch with Arun Jaitly, Union law minister, and Ram Naik, petroleum minister. The ordinance would be a way around the Supreme Court's order.
But Delhi Transport Minister Ajay Maken of the Congress said that his stategovernment was committed to a clean air programme and protection of public health. He said the Congress government would immplement the court's order fully. It was possible to phase out 800 diesel buses a month. In the past five months 2,500 dieselbuses had been phased out and replaced with CNG buses. It was possible to do more.
He thanked the court for making it mandatory for Indraprastha Gas Ltd to provide 16.1 lakh kg of CNG per day to Delhi by June 30. IGL has also said that it has enough gas to supply to Delhi provided it is allowed to do so by the Union Petroleum Ministry headed by Ram Naik of the BJP.
Last week, the Supreme Court in a landmark judgment told the government to phase out all diesel buses in the interest of public health. It said that it had given the government ample time to do so in more than three years of hearings.
The court came down heavily on the Union government headed by the BJP, saying it had sided with polluters and oil companies while ignoring common people affected by pollution. This was despite all the evidence available regarding the increase in cancer and asthma in Delhi and other cities like Kolkata.
To help commuters, Maken said that 6,700 DTC and private buses, and RTV vans run on CNG will be rerouted from Tuesday.
The transport situation improved after 145 private operators paid the daily fine of Rs 500 and brought their diesel buses on road.
Addressing reporters, chief minister Sheila Dikshit said the chief secretary Shailaja Chandra had written to the railway ministry asking them to add more bogies to the Ring Railway.
"In addition, the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) will place orders for purchasing 1,000 new CNG buses on Tuesday," Dikshit said. The first of these buses will hit the road by the first week of June.
‘Govt not serious about tackling pollution’
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Harish Sabharwal, Convenor, Joint Action Committee of Bus Operators.
‘‘The government was never serious about implementing the Supreme Court order. Why did they sell and register 6,000 diesel buses even after the court said all diesel buses must be phased out? They earned Rs 80,000 to Rs 90,000 by way of excise duty and an additional Rs 40,000 by way of sales tax. We were given certificates to run our diesel buses for 15 years. Now when the court has given an ultimatum, they are refusing to pay the penalty.’’
Suman Kumar, principal, Blue Bells school, Kailash Colony.
‘‘It is amazing how something goes wrong with the schoolbuses every year. The government had more than three years to implement the Supreme Court directive. But it did not. Instead, there have been innumerable excuses. It’s a question of wanting a cleaner and healthier Delhi. The government could have planned for this in advance. As head of an institution I feel this is the only way one can set an example for the students.’’
Sidharth Daniels, class XII student, St Columba’s ‘‘The government has jumbled up the whole issue. It is the government’s job to make sure that CNG is supplied, that contractors convert their buses, and manufacturers supply enough CNG buses. Yet the government has failed to do all that. Some people may say that CNG is not clean and that diesel should be allowed. Even a person who has studied basic science will laugh at this. Now people are much more aware of the issues. I like it when people don’t take everything lying down and question the government.’’
Nirmal Kumar, lecturer, Venkateswara College ‘‘The government has shown absolutely no interest in tackling this problem. Instead the Congress government has been trying to play with the people, by trying to portray the Supreme Court as the dragon. The Union government is at fault too. It’s failure to supply CNG created so much problem for the TSR and bus drivers who would queue for hours at CNG stations. The government is also trying to put moral pressure on the Supreme Court by closing schools. Ever since the CNG conversion began, I have felt the air get cleaner, yet it is the political will that is missing.’’
Uma Maheshwari, section officer, ministry of defence ‘‘It is a tussle between the executive and the judiciary and it is the public which is suffering in between. At least we, salaried people can afford other means of transport. What about the thousands of labourers who commute within Delhi? The government is taking the people for granted. They don’t realise the problems of the common man. After all, those who have the decision making power don’t have to travel in buses. Now that the court has put a stop to vehicles, the government has woken up. What is the government trying to prove by closing all the schools?’’