Our fast greying blue skies

A class 1 student of a reputed Delhi school recently won the first prize in a weekend painting competition.

She drew a lake and painted the sky grey. One of the judges called her aside and congratulated her. The judge, a weekend social worker, wanted to know why the child thought grey should represent the colour of the sky. The girl did not reply. She smiled briefly and ran away to hold her mother’s hand.

If a child thinks a blue sky is an accident while grey is natural, something must be wrong in the urban environment wherein she dwells. Despite its vast green cover — there are parks at almost every locality in the Capital to make somebody from Mumbai green with envy — Delhi has a smallness of purpose when it comes to appreciating the good luck it finds itself in. For example, the Okhla bird sanctuary has been rotting for years. More people know the way to Okhla industrial estate than the bird sanctuary, which is a boundary wall away from the industrial estate. Perhaps because there are more number of money-minting offices in the industrial estate than the ‘boring’ sanctuary.

Hauz Khas lake, the much-hyped destination where every foreign tourist must visit at least once if they want to feel homesick, has more plastic bottles floating on the surface than a recycling plant. The discerning people of Delhi have a keen interest in knowing the menus of restaurants that have sprung up like magic on the periphery of Hauz Khas lake than inquiring the lake’s condition.

‘Unwashed’ visitors

A few kilometres away, the hallowed Lodhi Gardens may boast of being the Capital’s best landscape nestled among some well-known landmarks where a few people frequently enjoy high tea. But the existence of this lush green patch in the middle of the city looks more like an anomaly. Lodhi  Gardens, like a mall, has turned into a brand. The businesses and the people that dot this landscape try to keep out ‘unwashed’ visitors.

In Delhi, if you threw a seed into the ground, it will grow into a mall or a luxury four-bedroom builder flat but not a plant. The Sheila Dikshit-led government, apart from placing potted flowers by the roadside before the Commonwealth Games in 2010, has done little to encourage people to be more environment-friendly – as against being aware of environment issues. People have awareness, all right, but there is no action.

The attitude is just not right. Despite a court order banning the use of plastic bags in the city, people still use plastics to carry their food items and cosmetics. In some temples in south Delhi, devotees refuse to buy offerings unless given in comfortable-to-carry plastic pouches.

Those who refuse to use plastics in their daily life are made to look as if they are doing something wrong in insisting that they be given their items in paper bags. Reputed stores have switched to paper bags not because they genuinely care but to avoid being marked as targets by activists since these stores are the most visible faces of their respective trades. The situation is hopeless in the street level as even reasonably educated people never say no to plastics.

All these show that underneath the whole gamut of Delhi’s professed love for preserving the urban environment, there exists a severely stunted mentality that puts comfort-at-all-cost above caring for the ‘little’ things.

Data made available in the public domain by independent social organisations clearly show that air pollution would have been reduced in the long run with the introduction of CNG-run autorickshaws and buses some years ago, but a concurrent rise in the number of fuel-guzzling private cars and SUVs killed whatever little chance was left to make the city breathable. It is time to accept that the efforts of the Delhi Transport Corporation – arguably the world’s largest CNG-run bus operator – have been cancelled out by greed for more and more cars.

For some reasons encouraging people to use public transport doesn’t seem to work in the Capital. One uses it when there is no choice, while the norm should be that one should make the choice.

Unless strict, non-negotiable rules come into force that can deter people from depending on machines and services that create pollution, such as reduced availability of civic amenities to a family that owns more than one four-wheeler, this consumers’ paradise we call Delhi will remain indifferent to the issue.

In a city where an SUV is considered a cultural icon, it was no surprise that a child thought the default colour of the sky was grey.

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