Can Kiran Bedi Make Delhi Safe for Women?
Kiran Bedi, the lady awarded the ticket to contest elections from the BJP, hails from a long and illustrious career as the the first woman IPS officer of India. This selection comes with inherent baggage for which the lady will be held answerable, but which, as yet, doesn’t seem to be figuring in her campaign. As the prospective chief minister of Delhi, the rape capital of the world and the most polluted city, Bedi will have to preside over a city with a detailed compendium of action plans to tackle legitimate and grave issues with tact and speed.
In November 2011, as reported by the Hindu, an FIR had be filed against Kiran Bedi for siphoning off money from a computer training scheme meant for children and families of para-military and police personnel.
At an annual briefing with reporters, Delhi Commissioner Bhim Sain Bassi announced 2069 rape cases which were reported in New Delhi in the 12 months leading up to December 15; 2014 against 1571 reported in the previous year, displaying a 31.6% increase. The Nirbhaya case still echos deep with the masses of the city. In the year 2012 a 181 helpline was set up by Sheila Dikshit the former Chief Minister of the city was later busted by an NDTV sting operation who found a small empty room with 17 working women on three working lines, working three shifts and unable to handle the load of calls. Faruqui the consultant for the 181 calls commented on the insufficient manpower saying “30% of distress calls are dropped because we just have three phone lines. We need at least six. We do not advertise because that would lead to more calls. More awareness would be impossible to handle” which also resulted in lowering the ads for the women’s helpline number. The Delhi Police on the other hand lists a different women helpline number: 1091. This constant change in helplines, leaves the public confused and often lost.
Bassi also mentioned 36, 284 other complaints received at the women’s help desks in the city’s police stations, most of these desks have been established recently. The city police is reported to have solved only 62 percent of all crimes reported against women within a week.
The reason for the weak performance in the capital cities mainly lies in the poor distribution of police and unsatisfactory dependencies by number of police officers per 100,000 people. In an analysis by the United Nations, in the year 2013, India registers only 130 police officers per 1,585,353 people. While this ratio has increased significantly in India over the last decade it remains far behind many other major economies. The worldwide average is 350. Scotland has around 330 officers per 100,000, China has 737, Brazil 282, Afghanistan 401 United States 238 officers and Pakistan has 207.
The number of female police force in 2011 remains at 5% of the total police force even after the supreme court guidelines to check sexual harassment laid down on Dec 16 ordering greater deployment of female police officers in public spaces:
“All states and Union Territories are directed to depute plain-cothes female police officers in the precincts of bus-stands and stops, railway stations, metro stations, cinema theatres, shopping malls parks, beaches, public service vehicles, places of worship to monitor and supervise incidents of sexual harassment.”
The Indian police owing to lower funds than most countries are often seen as grouping together in cars rather than pairing up and covering a larger area over smaller speedier vehicles. Their vehicles are often unequipped with efficient technology which not only guides them but also keeps a check on their corruption like cameras and GPS machines. They are often found asking for directions from complainants when contacted on the city emergency number 100.
As a former female police officer, Kiran Bedi would be expected to not only address the issue of safely for Women but make distinct change within period time, streamline systems, clean up and expand police vigil in crucial areas, increase technological support for the inadequate police numbers. All this responsibility naturally falls on her shoulders as a unique candidate due to her previous achievements, and also to show the real impact and reason for her to change her political allegiance other than a desperate attempts to come to power. If this basic pre requisite remains unfulfilled then her candidacy surely is redundant leaving no further hope for the city.
The second challenge that poses great threat to life in the city is the air quality and general environment degradation of the city which could soon deem this city according to international standards un-liveable. This is particularly worrisome as no one seems to be talking about it in the country. The government also employs very lose regulations on environmental concerns, giving the explanation of other priorities for a poor country.
China which has been facing similar problems is dealing with internal and external pressure to cope with the grave issue and has started undertaking swift measures to rectify an impending disaster. However the situation for India and moreover Delhi-the biggest victim of pollution; remains a bleak one.
As the fifth most populated metropolis in the world, Delhi also has the highest particulate matter pollution of 2.5 levels in the world which is almost five times above the safety threshold for humans. The Delhi smog kills 10,500 every year. According to a study by the Harvard International Review, every two in five persons in Delhi suffer from respiratory ailments. The Lancet's Global Health Burden 2013 report termed air pollution the sixth biggest human killer in India. The WHO last year termed air pollution carcinogenic.
New Delhi’s average daily peak reading of fine particulate matter from Punjabi Bagh, a monitor whose readings are often below those of other city and independent monitors, was 473, more than twice as high as the average of 227 in Beijing. By the time pollution breached 500 in Beijing for the first time on the night of Jan. 15, Delhi had already had eight such days. Indeed, only once in three weeks did New Delhi’s daily peak value of fine particles fall below 300, a level more than 12 times the exposure limit recommended by the World Health Organization.
Levels of nitrogen oxide almost doubled from 2001 to 2010, from 29 micrograms to 55, on average. A measure of particulate matter known as PM10 (any dust with a diameter less than 10 micrometres) has also more than doubled, from 120 to 261, way above the prescribed limit of 100. A glance at the website of a Delhi government agency on November 5th 2013, for example, showed the PM10 level at 749, more than seven times over the safe limit. And for more dangerous tiny particles, known as PM2.5, the agreed safe limit is 60, whereas the official Delhi site reported a level of 489, over eight times too high.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated in 2005 that "fine particulate air pollution (PM(2.5), causes about 3% of mortality from cardiopulmonary disease, about 5% of mortality from cancer of the trachea, bronchus, and lung, and about 1% of mortality from acute respiratory infections in children under 5 years, worldwide. Short-term exposure at elevated concentrations can significantly contribute to heart disease. A 2011 study concluded that traffic exhaust is the single most serious preventable cause of heart attack in the general public, the cause of 7.4% of all attacks.
Main contributors to particulate matter in the PM10 range, as a recent study shows, are road dust (50%) and industry (23%) vehicles accounted for only 7% even though the number of cars on New Delhi streets grows by 1,400 a day. Among industrial contributors, power plants within Delhi city limits are the main culprits. Only about 20% of the industrial units are in the approved industrial areas; the remainder are spread over the city in residential and commercial areas. There also has been a phenomenal increase in vehicle population owing to the governments economic schemes that allow easier and cheaper purchases of cars with 8238185 vehicles registered in 2014. Delhi needs to limit the number of vehicles, introduce steeper parking rates, improve public transport to include last mile connectivity, impose an annual road tax, and improve fuel and auto technology and keep CNG prices lower than diesel.
Sarath Guttikunda of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi in a recent study notes for example that some 1,000 brick kilns surround Delhi, serving its construction boom, baking bricks by burning coal, wood and other organic smoky stuff. Such kilns are traditional, inefficient and dirty. Converting these to something cleaner—or moving them farther away—would surely help. Similarly coal- and oil-fired power stations near Delhi have, over the years, been converted to gas or moved away. Six power plants remain near the city, but as the general power grid fails repeatedly, wealthy residents, hospitals and businesses turn increasingly to diesel-generators in the city centre, points out Mr Guttikunda. Making the grid more reliable, therefore, would cut the use of such stinky and noisy machines. Paving more roads would lessen the amount of dust (a big portion of PM10) thrown up into the air, while a ban on burning rubbish would cut the oily particles, and so on.
“It’s always puzzled me that the focus is always on China and not India,” said Dr. Angel Hsu, director of the environmental performance measurement program at the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy. “China has realized that it can’t hide behind its usual opacity, whereas India gets no pressure to release better data. So there simply isn’t good public data on India like there is for China.”
What is most surprising is the lack of awareness in Delhi of the hazardous pollution levels in the city especially around children. Frank Hammes, chief executive of IQAir, a Swiss-based maker of air filters, said his company’s sales were hundreds of times higher in China than in India.
“In China, people are extremely concerned about the air, especially around small children,” Mr. Hammes said. “Why there’s not the same concern in India is puzzling.” Even though In 1998, India’s Supreme Court ordered that Delhi’s taxis, three-wheelers and buses be converted to compressed natural gas, but the resulting improvements in air quality were short-lived as cars flooded the roads. A 2010 study found that the children of Indian immigrants who were born and raised in the United States had far better lung function than those born and raised in India. In a study published by Dr. Duong who compared lung tests taken in 38,517 healthy nonsmokers from 17 countries who were matched by height, age and sex. Indians’ lung function was by far the lowest among those tested.
Besides the air pollution there has been extreme water pollution in the city despite facaded efforts of a potential clean up. In 2011, the national government announced a Rs 1,357 crore drain interceptor plan (all waste water is to be cleaned before it reaches the river) that would clean up the river by 2014. However the Yamuna still remains an untouchable river by a bare human hand owing to the untreated waste dispensed into it, and the unbearable stench smelt from kilometres away.
These are extreme figures that should now become the primary concern for the state government and awareness among people must become a priority for increased pressure. A shift in perspective toward environmental change and safeguarding the capital city needs to become a major state government priority.
Kiran Bedi in these matters would have to explicitly mention her priorities and action plan to take this city forward in an efficient manner rather than follow the same old path of elusive leadership and misplaced priorities. A mere duplication of formerly laid out priorities by other parties and slogan shouting an adopted method by the party’s leader at this stage really would be meek attempt at leadership, as vital plans and coherent steps are the call of action of the next term. If this city was to see new leadership as most populist votes seem to be going in other states, then let this leadership be meaningful and effective.
Delhi needs someone who cleans the city up, for good. We need visible change.
(Anica Mann Kapur is currently reading the MPhil in Classical Indian Relgion at the University of Oxford).