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Issue 44
July , 2013
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Climate change: Missing the wood for the trees

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Source: Times of India, Date: June , 2013

NEW DELHI: In 2009, Delhi became the first city in India to come out with a comprehensive plan for combating climate change. The ambitious proposal outlined actions to be taken under five heads that included air, water, noise, solid waste and greening and a list of 65 actions. Over 20 government agencies were involved in the project. The time-frame set for realizing the goals expired in 2012 and there are very few success stories to talk about.

One of Delhi's major achievements during this phase was its greening activity. While development projects ate into the city's tree cover, the forest department created several city forests on the outskirts of Delhi. Going by its target for 2012, the government has almost met its goal for greening 25% of Delhi's area. Delhi Metro also spread its wing and is the only mode of public transport that is on track. The agenda on solar power was achieved partially while hotels have just been brought on board to recycle their waste and reduce energy consumption.

Where the government failed to make any impact was on its roads. The city is facing a total breakdown of its road infrastructure if any more vehicles are added. Quite alarmingly, around 1,200 vehicles are being added to the capital's roads daily. The agenda was for capping the number of cars - believe it or not - at 2 lakh by 2012. The number at present is over 23 lakh! A congestion tax proposed for private vehicles has been scrapped and a demand for differential parking rates made now.

"At present Delhi has 15 millions trips a day and by 2020 this will go up to 25 million trips - the government has to support this with a good public transport system," said Anumita Roychowdhury, associate director, Centre for Science and Environment. "So far, most of its budget is going into creating car-centric infrastructure. The government managed to take the basic principles of a clean environment on board but never really backed its intentions with legally implementable actions."

Former chief secretary Rakesh Mehta, who was instrumental in developing the climate change agenda, says a 10% slippage in the plan would have been acceptable, and by the end of 2012, 90% of the work outlined in it should have been achieved. However, sources in the environment department say that much of the work is still "in progress".

"We have been monitoring the work closely and are in the process of finalizing the second climate change agenda that will take up the work post 2012. There are issues like availability of land on which not one but several projects hinge. Of the 65 points in the agenda, some work has been completed while certain works have been merged and we have brought the points down to 36," said environment secretary Sanjiv Kumar.

Sources say once Mehta left, pace of work slowed down considerably. The environment department was unable to get CFL manufacturers on board for a take-back policy and mercury collection has still not started. The government has also been unable to identify land for a hazardous waste treatment facility, having faced several protests by locals. The interceptor sewage system is way behind schedule and will be completed only around 2015.

The lack of progress may be attributed to lack of will and an aggressive approach by the agencies concerned though some feel that the plan might have been over-ambitious. "The agenda was highly commendable but maybe the government was over-ambitious with its targets," said an environmentalist.

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