Cold Streets And Quivering Usher
I wrote this piece for Agenda For Survival in June of 2014. However, only little has changed in past four years down the timeline.
Do you remember when the morning skies were blue with subtle bliss, echoing thousands of chirps we thought we’d never miss? We used to walk barefoot on grass to distances that were far; now I miss my shoes while running on blistering tar. Alas, we’ve travelled so far now we can’t back out; hey, will you lend me your shoes before I pass out? “No” is the answer, firmly I know, but there’s my space here that now you’ll owe. Tomorrow, I may die and be buried under the blood of denial, but I’ll fight with head high, this “Agenda for Survival”.
In past 16 months, I’ve travelled to over 200 different towns, villages and cities for varied purposes. While walking on roads I could barely see healthy cattle but, yes, a couple of new Mercedes. Earmarked by keystone birds, biodiversity has always been representative of the faltering ecological balance. During my visits last year, where richest site as that of Bharatpur exhibited a wobbling condescension, to my surprise, Sariska was no different to match the abomination. The mere thought of Birds moving from Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary (better known as Keoladeo National Park) is elusive. What seemed more alarming was their new migratory pattern; “at least 20 species now are hard to find and some are declared extinct” I was told by the forest guide with whom I had glimpses of Tigers breeding in the wild.
I thought things would be different in South around Konkan and Deccan tail (controlled by more or less consistent ocean currents and pronounced monsoon winds), but the result turned out to be the same that deepened further the doubts. And then one morning two months ago I got the sight of WHO report that turned the tables of calculation and I could connect the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle after hours of permutations. A city that takes pride in its world’s largest fleet of CNG driven buses crowned by cleanest metro commutes, Delhi’s state in the report was by no means a close miss with miserable 15 times the pollution than WHO baseline for a safe city good enough to live. This partly explains the denunciation of the green myth and raised a question immediately to all alike “Is sustainable development possible still?”
I was eagerly looking to get the hold of someone within the campaign “Agenda of Survival” to unravel this un-unravelable hazy mystery when Ruchita Bansal channelized the thoughts to uncover this anti-symmetry. A Research Associate in Air Pollution and Mobility, she began unfolding the layers from barren footpaths to the crowded metro cities. I could recall my stand a few months ago on Human Rights and Climate Change when she continued with Right to Clean air and various other federal policies. Unlike our general perception, Ministry of Urban Development has precisely devised various policies and plans to develop green cities that are sustainababble, a cacophonous profusion of uses of the word sustainable to mean anything from environmentally better to cool. Policies like JNNURM-CDP have played a key role by centrally funding the cities to improve the infrastructure including transport, sewage, footpaths and dumps. How far they’ve been implemented is another debate being overlooked from landfill humps.
Delhi is home to vehicles of not just herself but expanding NCR and the satellite cities unlike her closest competitors in Bangalore and Mumbai. Program Director for ‘Agenda for Survival’ Aditya Batra, later, cited the fallacies in planning approach is the key concern where public traffic is either not functional or notoriously absurd. Indian Railways’ local ply daily with underutilized capacities while the distance of the metro station from our homes with no connectivity is another far cry. The number of passenger cars in Delhi outnumber others by 100% and suspended particles follow a pattern, we agreed, the same. Adding more to it, instead of being mobility focused, a car dominant approach lead to the flood of flyovers and useless bridges to which government awed herself under lights of more scams and braces.
Pedestrians, who are portrayed as hindrances in most road plans, were provided lonely skywalks and dark subways as an alternative to footpaths to fulfil the deep desired seamless movement of cars, neglecting the buses. No doubt, FOBs (foot over bridges) and subways are being built with little logic and more political device. Lack of audits of engineering features can be one major cause as what’s approved on the maps matches little with concrete structure when the day gets bright. The half BRT, a masterpiece in making that fell on its face, exhibits a perfect example of how planned our road structure is. Footpaths, still hard to find and neglected, have a better say in the context of mobility if we analyze cycle lanes in the country uncovering the agony to determine.
Statistics are shouting out loud, out of every million in the country, in roads accidents 180 are dead. Glorifying figures continue the dirty dance if we compare a statistical stance of deaths caused being inside and outside the car leaving mostly drivers of big cars unharmed. The nodes are connected somewhere, yet hard to find and we’ll work out the route to define. The dice have been rolled over MB Road and teams are defined to uncover the security of historic road my forefathers, probably, used as a ravine. The process, the result, the analysis and the finds – will find their place in pages with time. In the meantime, run on the roads, explore the divines of the city built over thousands of years by some of greatest of their times.
Summer sure is sultry and has a hard to bear glare, but somehow under the drilling rocks, warmth is not there. We can love it, hate it or cry out our plight but this would remain one legend we would always be fond to recite.