By Jagpreet Luthra
Delhi-Meerut Expressway: Did the PM Smell It Right?
There is a mountain of garbage in east Delhi that the government has been trying to burn out of existence since the 2010 Commonwealth Games--without success. The mountain's greening is on now. May be, it would take another ten years, says a source in an NGO working to protect the labourers involved in the greening of what is presently a hot bed of diseases.
Meanwhile, the population of four lakh people that lives in its vicinity in countless residential colonies, including retired Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officers in Mayur Vihar phase one, has learnt to live with it. The others, who believe they are lucky that they at least have houses to live in, dare not complain about the foul air. They have conditioned their noses and stomachs against the pukey and revolting smells.
Right next to the garbage mountain is a slaughter house, perhaps, the world's filthiest: Grisly and fresh-bleeding pieces of flesh of assorted animals, including buffaloes, may be, even that of their white siblings, are sold here each morning in open stalls; customers can be seen carting the stuff away in gunny bags that drip blood on the road, raising not a single eyebrow. Those who find the place nauseating say they avoid stepping out of their homes until after the temporary meat stalls have been removed. On the other side of the road is Delhi ' s murga mandi, expectedly, another gut - wrenching site.
These are the landmarks on the Delhi-Meerut Expressway where Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a splash on Sunday, May 27. As the cavalcade of dashing black SUVs snailed along, the prime minister stood in his seat through the open roof and waived to an adoring crowd lined up on both sides of the road. The starting stretch of the new highway is right above two huge and open sewerage drains; one of them is supposed to be the Hindon canal, but the stagnant and foul-smelling water has made it indistinguishable from the sewerage drain.
In short, the sewerage drains, the garbage mountain and the slaughter house define the first stretch of the highway. However, escapism, as a norm, is comforting; so, it is not hard to see why the television cameras focussed on just the wide, newly-built, good looking road, the glowing prime minister, the cheering crowds and the picturesque Akshar Dham Temple in the backdrop. The temple itself is built on that part of the Yamuna riverbed which is a challenge to the river-cleaning projects of government and non-government bodies alike.
Not only is the riverbed thoroughly corroded, it has been polluted with millions of tons of human excreta for the last five decades. Until 25 years ago, there was a huge population of homeless migrants from all over the country settled here. For the last two decades, with the exception of a few months before, during and after the Commonwealth Games, the construction labourers, building the highways, have made temporary homes here. Since temporary homes and toilets don't go together, this whole stretch of 12 kilometres from the Nizamuddin bridge over the Yamuna up to the start of the Delhi-Meerut express highway is a nightmare in terms of smells.
Although one does not wish even the worst enemy to smell and inhale such diseased air, one hopes that the leading lights of the government, including the Prime Minister and the Road Transport minister, got a whiff of this air--if only to address this criminally- neglected aspect of urban living. No urban planner seems to be paying attention to how the quality of life is affected by such filthy smells and sights.
The statistical information about the highway is impressive. It has been built by NHAI and Welspun Group in a record time of 18 months as against the earlier expected construction period of 30 months. To be completed by next March, the 82-kilometer-long highway will reduce the travel time between Delhi and Meerut from two and a half hours to just 40 minutes. Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari said, given the greening plan along the highway, air pollution here would reduce by 27 percent.
However, it is not enough to address only vehicular pollution, which is just a part of the air pollution. There are poisons deadlier than those emitted by vehicles, and it is these poisons that need to be removed from the air for urban development to have any meaning.
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