Can Activism and Reasoning Co-exist?

One of the Headlines in Times of India Delhi edition today stated – “ To save 35 trees, Thousands of lives put at risk on S Delhi road”. The story brings out how the stand taken by some residents of a South Delhi Colony and inaction by an environmentalist appointed as amicus curiae has prevented the widening if a road since Jan 2013. It also brings out a curious situation where the road looks like a mini forest with trees growing in the middle of the road. 

Courtesy Times of India, Delhi Edition
Cambridge dictionary describes ‘Activism’ as the use of direct and noticeable action to achieve a result, usually a political or social one. While ‘Logical Thinking’ may be described as thought using reason. It is the process of using the human ability  to think, compare and come to a decision.

Activism is high on the agenda of various Delhi Circles. There numerous committees to protect trees, old monuments, gardens, water bodies etc.  Good, we need to be aware of our surroundings, and we should definitely leave a better world which is greener and cleaner for our next generation. Trees should not be usually cut, however, if they are required to be removed, they should be either transplanted (technology to transplant trees exist and has been used successfully in Mumbai) or compensatory plantation should be carried out. This compensatory plantation may be either in the same locality or in some area around the locality.

Courtsey Times of India Delhi Edition
 When protecting the trees, we should consider the reasons for removal of trees and find a considered solution to the problem. Banning cutting of trees without giving a thought is bordering on ridiculous. The curious case of a road full of trees has been described above. I have driven through this stretch, its an obstacle course. One would need a rally trained navigator to take you across this stretch successfully as its not clear where the road is, which carriage way is for which direction etc. The scenario becomes more complicated at night as this stretch is not illuminated. Trees pop-up in front of the vehicle from nowhere. One may escape with minor injuries, a raised BP and a bill to pay for a damaged car, but if one is on a two wheeler, this close encounter with the trees could be fatal as has happened with quite a few hapless riders.

A tree, if uprooted, can be transplanted, but a young life or a limb lost cannot be replaced. Is the life of a human less important than a tree? And trees standing in the middle of roads is not unique to this particular stretch. Numerous Delhi roads have trees standing in the middle, one of the classic example which I crossed every single day of my last six years was the exit from Dhaula Kuan flyover to Karol Bagh. I have found innumerable trucks colliding with this particular tree at night. The reflective paint around the tree is also missing from the side where vehicles have frequently scraped/ collided. The result is, that the balance reflective paint makes it look like a tree half its original width, further adding to chaos and leading to collisions.

Then there are the classic cases of a portion of the tree trunk projecting onto the right most lane from a central divider. These trees are not marked by reflective paint also as officially they are on the central verge and not on the road. They are invisible at night and the cause of innumerable scraped cars and broken bones for two wheeler riders.

Continuing with activism and reasoning, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has suddenly decided to arbitrarily ban diesel vehicles older than 10 years and petrol vehicles older than 15 years from Delhi roads. No scientific reason has been provided. The law of the land does not discriminate against vehicles based on age. The government collects life time for tax for 15 years, after which the registration may be renewed based on the condition of the vehicle. No scheme exists for compensating owners of these old vehicles. There is no scrapping scheme for vehicles in India. There are no organised scrap yards for these vehicles. The per capita income of the country is low and people cannot afford to replace vehicles frequently. In this scenario, the NGT gives Govt of Delhi two weeks, to ban old vehicles. Did someone reason:-

  • Will this order affect public services?
  • Where will I keep the banned vehicles?
  • How will they be scrapped?
  • How will the scrap be disposed off?
  • Does the country have capability to recycle these scraped vehicles?
  • What is the recycling capability of the country?
  • How will I compensate a law abiding citizen, who’s car has suddenly become useless?
  • How will this person travel?
  • Is there enough public transport to provide for the additional load?
  • How will the government refund five years worth of tax that the owners have paid in advance?
  • What is the rate of interest that the government would pay to these law abiding citizens?
  • Do the state governments have capability to refund this additional tax along with interest?
  • Are there any other reasons for the PM 2.5 pollution in Delhi? I will suggest looking around at mounds of dirt, unswept roads, dug up areas under flyovers, fallow land, general topography and geology of Delhi. Reports have suggested that the main reason for PM 2.5 pollution is dust and not diesel.
  • Has some one done a social impact assessment of removal of these vehicles?

Activism is good for quick implementation but the movement may be hijacked by vested interests. In case of activists, the loudest are heard and they are usually in the minority. Also, when decisions are taken for rhetoric, reason is the first casualty.

Pollution needs to be controlled and trees need to be protected, I do not oppose these noble causes, but my humble request is, study the problem, identify the causes and find a reasonable solution. Banning vehicles or cutting of trees is not the solution. Maybe, I am engineer and do not have the utopian zeal of the activist, but then I was taught to find an optimal solution to problems after reasoning. 

I suggest, that we should not get swayed by the high pitch rhetoric of the activist, but find reasons behind the problem and find logical, optimal and reasonable solutions with the zeal of an activist.