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Delhi pollutes, everyone else pays

  • Published at 05:05 pm April 10th, 2016
  • Last updated at 05:10 pm June 14th, 2016
Delhi pollutes, everyone else pays

On January 5, 2016, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India issued a directive expanding the number of entry points through which non-Delhi bound heavy commercial vehicles cannot pass.

It read: “We direct that no heavy commercial vehicles, except those which are bound for Delhi, shall be allowed to enter through entry points at National Highway 2, 10, 58, and State Highway 57.”

On December 16, 2015, the Supreme Court had restricted entry of heavy commercial vehicles into Delhi through the vital National Highway 1 and 8 routes. This effectively means that if a heavy truck has no business in Delhi, the court is making it very difficult for it to use entry-points into Delhi as their route.

This would invariably mean that the trucks will have to use a longer route to go to their destination, and hence they will burn more fuel and cause more pollution. But they will not be allowed to pollute Delhi, even at the possibility of causing more pollution outside Delhi.

The Supreme Court of India’s three-judge bench comprising of TS Thakur, AK Sikri, and R Banumathi, wrote in their order that “we are not concerned with any other aspect. We are only concerned with the environment.”

While one should laud judicial concern about the environment, it must also be remembered that like Delhi, all states surrounding Delhi also have environments.

Pollution being a zero-sum game, without decreasing the net amount of pollution from these trucks entering Delhi from Haryana or Uttar Pradesh, any directive restricting entry to trucks into Delhi will result in higher pollution in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

This order in no way restricts Delhi residents with heavy-polluting, luxury diesel-run vehicles to go on recreational long drives into Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, and pollute those areas and come back to Delhi.

The highly polluting lifestyle of the middle class and upper-middle class residents of Delhi or their right to spread their pollution to areas beyond Delhi is apparently non-negotiable. Notwithstanding the fact that Delhi has the highest amount of greenhouse gas footprint in the Indian Union among urban areas, in varying degrees this is characteristic of the lifestyle of other metropolitan elites in the Indian Union.

With the rapid rise in the sales of personal cars and air-conditioners in cities (again, the usual suspect leading the pack), it is important to ask what greater common good is served by expanding energy production in the Indian Union at huge cost to India’s overall environment, if the consumption is disproportionately dominated by the Euro-American consumer lifestyle of the relatively well-off, in short, a miniscule proportion of the Indian Union population. In short, the powerful pollute and the powerless suffer.

The Indian Union is a union of states. Given that the Government of India presents a united front about its per capita carbon footprint in international forums and negotiations, the huge inequalities that exist within the union in terms of per capita carbon footprint are never highlighted.

Huge centralisation of policy and funds disbursement in favour of certain regions, which are, not surprisingly, largely high polluters since policy-makers and their kith and kin and interest networks live there, without any heed to these huge inequalities, actually ends up rewarding the greater polluters.

This domestic situation stands in stark contrast to India’s stance at international fora. For example, if we review estimates of state level per capita CO2 emissions for a 20 year period (State Level Carbon Dioxide Emissions of India: 1980-2000), we shall see that the per capita CO2 emission of Delhi is double that of West Bengal and seven times that of Kerala.

Has the greater polluting style of Delhi resulted in Government of India policy that penalises Delhi or rewards West Bengal or Kerala?

The answer is no.

When the Government of India jockeys at the international level for concessions from historically high per capita polluters, and also wants that these per-capita pollution giants give funds to bear various costs of “greening” energy production modes in the Indian Union and elsewhere in the southern world, did the Union Government ever spell out, how will it distribute the funds or other benefits if such a deal is reached?

We know how that will play out. The meagre advantages that might be received out of any international deal by Indian Union playing victim will be distributed in exactly the reverse way within the Indian Union, with existing high per capita polluters not getting penalised, and cornering disproportionately high advantages.

The cynical games of the Delhi elite and its network of trans-regional agents are a curse on the sub-continent’s environment.

OIt is with this context in mind that we might want to analyse the Government of India’s hypocritical position in international fora. As a whole, the per capita C02 emission of the Indian Union dwarfs in front of the US or Canada or Germany (the so-called “green” champion).

In 1990, the per capita CO2 emissions of USA and Canada, and Germany was 800, 19,300, and 15,700 tons respectively. In 2013, the numbers were 1,700, 16,600, and 15,700 respectively.

The go-green champion Germany was at a highly polluting 10,200 tons per capita in 2013. According to estimates, between 1,850 to 2,011, US and Europe accounted for 27% and 25% of all CO2 emissions. China and this sub-continent accounted for 11% and 3% respectively.

The world has been the dumping ground for white people’s trash for a very long time -- including their ideologies and carbon emissions. There can be no doubt that for the future survival of the planet and for the sake of basic distributive justice, the Euro-American way of life has to be severely rolled back.

For a long time, this was the stance of the Indian Union at international negotiations, where it fancied that it was speaking for decolonised people of the world and, I guess, that includes Kashmir.

But the internal inequality described earlier shows that the government of India’s anti-colonial, holier-than-thou stance based on the irrefutable logic of historical and distributive justice is a fig-leaf for the perpetuation of Euro-American-level per capita pollution lifestyles practised by metropolitan India’s thin layer of elite.

According to a 2014 paper published jointly by various organisations including TERI and the Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (an independent, not-for-profit policy research institution, chaired at that point by present Union Minister Suresh Prabhu): “AC use is already the largest component of overall residential power consumption and the largest peak demand use of electricity in many Indian cities.” It also projects that this will only expand.

The minuscule proportion of the population of the Indian Union who owns an AC prefers to hide behind the billion-plus brown people, most of whom have nothing to do with COP21 or COP20 or any COP except the terrorising armed cop in their locality who is very often the only sign of the benevolent government of India.

Its holier-than-thou-ness at the COP jamborees are orchestrated in the name of the billions, without consultation, without any pretense of distributive justice inside.

What has the Indian Union done to correct this distributive injustice where industrial development and expansion of high-pollution lifestyle have happened disproportionately in some states, while all others are shouldering the pollution burden, since pollution is not something that respects state boundaries and spills over?

Why is it that the high per capita polluters in the Indian Union are also, as a group, recipients of the highest subsidies and public amenities funded largely by the billion-plus.

For a just future, the principle of equality in terms of per capita carbon emission is the starting point of any negotiation internationally.

Also, what needs to be upheld internationally is the pollutant pays principle -- that is high polluters need to pay up to low polluters for their self-serving actions. But what is good for the goose is good for the gander. If there is any principle behind these pronouncements, these should hold true within the Indian Union also.

A double standard cannot be sustained domestically. Hence, the states of the Indian Union have to have their own treaty, where high per capita polluter states need to be penalised or disadvantaged in some concrete way and/or conversely, the low per capita polluter states need to be rewarded. Some fund transfer has to take place from the high per capita polluters to the low per capita polluters.

No one should pick up other people’s trash. The “polluter pays” principle does not need to end at the state level but that kind of a federal treaty is a start, given that, at this moment, a united forum of affected states can counter the skewed yet nominally trans-regional alliance of entrenched elite interests called the government of India. Mere “Save Green” advertisement tokenisms from Government of India’s Environment Ministry will not cut it. States may be powerless but they are not fools.

It is more obscene than hypocritical that the class that regularly runs marathons for saving the tiger (on a different note, why marathons instead of trishul-laathi-thons to “save the cow”?) or for a green environment, whose children are busy “saving the rhino,” who value-add their homes by landscaped terrace gardens (“land”-scaping above the land level? On terrace?), buy flats in gated communities with 70% “open, green” spaces to connect with the simple village.

But never with the real contemporary villager in any other capacity, except distant “helping” and “culture” gawking and sampling of super-fake and by now kitschy nostalgia, who want to backpack in the midst of nature “off the beaten track,” are into organic products (but not fair-trade products) and so on -- are precisely the class that contributes disproportionately highly to the carbon footprint of the citizens of the Indian Union.

The anti-imperialist green posturing of the government of India representatives at international fora are a thin cover for perpetuating this simultaneous diesel-petrol guzzling, private-car owning, and simultaneously tiger and greenery saving way of life.

That fact that they can get away points to the deep democratic deficit and the lack of any real concern for federal principles in the functioning of the Government of India. For the sake of the sub-continent and the world, something must give.