Located in the north-west of India, the metropolis of Delhi is part of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, adjacent to the Punjab region. The greater sprawl of metropolitan Delhi consumes an area of 1,438 square kilometres, an expanse flanked by the rocky hills of the Aravalli Range and the Yamuna River. Neighboured by the territories of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, Delhi is a largely dry zone, with significantly hot summers, transitioning into a monsoon season with the most of the city’s annual rainfall recorded before winter begins. With climate change, seasonal change seems to be becoming more variable. In 2013, for example, the monsoon rains came early, causing flooding problems in the city and agricultural crises in rural India.
Delhi was ranked the tenth-largest city in the world in 2011 with around 17 million residents. A spike in population growth occurred during the 1940s due to the migration of displaced Sikhs, Hindu Punjabis and Sindhis. It was one of the largest forced resettlements in human history, and the movement continued into the following decades. The intensification of Delhi’s population has continued to be notably high in the last few decades with a decadal rate in population growth across the 1990s of 47 per cent. Most recent figures show that population growth from 2001 and 2011 was 21 per cent. Whilst this was a significant drop from the decade before, population growth is still unsustainably on the rise.
The number of people projected to be living in Delhi by 2026 is around 30 million. Rapid urbanization, in conjunction with the intensified challenges of environmental degradation, has placed pressure on infrastructure, housing availability and the spread of slums. Another major impact of rapid population increase is a change in the way that land is used. Once fertile grounds and water bodies, along with agricultural lands, have been covered over by built-up urban sprawl. In 1951, the total area of agricultural land in the Delhi region was 97,067 hectares. Today, it is less than 25,000 hectares.
Agriculture as the primary economic driver has been replaced by a mixed capitalist economy. From the late-twentieth century, high-tech industries, particularly information technology and telecommunications, have dominated the older commodities trading in such goods as spices that made Delhi an important national commercial capital. In turn this process of globalizing economically has generated an increasing division of rich and poor, and put tremendous pressure on the access of the poor to land and housing.
Currently, Delhi has a carbon footprint of 0.70 metric tons per person. In comparison to other megacities around the world including Mexico City and London, Delhi’s carbon footprint is notably lower. While this may seem positive, it is the uneven development of Delhi that underlies such data and therefore its carbon footprint still remains a critical issue, particularly as it is well above the national average of India. One only has to look so far as census data on housing to see that while the majority of houses in Delhi have either stone, slate or concrete as their roofs, 86 per cent of households in Delhi are constructed with burnt brick walls. The processes involved with burnt brick production are not environmentally friendly. And so the conundrum is highlighted, how can today’s populations achieve better health and overall life-quality outcomes whilst ensuring environmental prosperity in the future?
Ecological issues of Delhi are widespread, covering many different facets of daily life. In relation to air quality, transport regulations have not been able to limit pollution. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of motor vehicles in Delhi almost doubled and it remains the major factor contributing to Delhi’s increasingly poor air quality. Whilst in 1998, the Supreme Court of India passed orders to attempt to control pollution due to vehicles throughout Delhi, these orders were ineffective. Delhi accounts for 2 per cent of the national population but contributes 5 per cent of the total national emissions. Of this figure, transportation accounts for two-thirds of the city’s total emissions.
Numerous studies have established links between air pollutants and morbidity due to respiratory issues. The World Bank estimates that a 10 per cent reduction in particulate matter levels (PM10) in cities such as New Delhi would reduce mortality by 1,000 deaths each year. The Central Pollution Control Board established stations to monitor the levels of pollutants in the air in 2002. They have initiated some improvements, but with increasing numbers of cars, air pollution remains a critical issue.
Half-a-kilogram of waste is created per capita in Delhi, with only 70 per cent of waste being collected and disposed of through formal means. That is, 30 per cent of waste is disposed of through the streets or in illegal dumping places. Piles of garbage and other litter across the city are increasingly common. This not only creates environmental and health issues, but dramatically affects the city’s aesthetics. While some receptacles have been put in place to collect community waste, there is no formal policy governing their distribution. Through a combination of political inattention and poor ecological education, many households dispose of their rubbish unsustainably, in waterways for example. The disposal of waste that is collected by the government is largely inappropriate, with waste being dumped in low-lying areas posing contamination risks. Presently there are three major sanitary sites for the city of Delhi: Ghazipur, Bhalswa and Okhla. These sites are nearly full. There is an increased demand for the government to initiate new and safe alternatives, and better operational practices in waste management. Street sweeping, for example, is mostly confined to commercially used roads. Appropriate supervision of staff is responsible for unsustainable waste disposal practices.
Why then, given all of this, does ecological sustainability in New Delhi look better than for Melbourne with all its aesthetic beauty, green leafy suburbs and efficient recycling? When we compare the Profile Circles for New Delhi and Melbourne, the reason that Melbourne is less ecologically sustainable turns predominantly on its massive per capita consumption, car dependency, waste and emissions. If New Delhi continues to ‘develop’ in a conventional sense, this will change for the worse.