Not in Delhi s backyard

delhi's been improving its environs. Mostly driven by the judiciary acting in response to public interest petitions, Delhi's breathing easier now. But the fallout of Delhi's clean-up on villages surrounding it has not been good. Karkar Model village in Sahibabad is a case in point. Years of pollution from the industrial area surrounding the village worsened due to the illegal influx of industrial units driven out of Delhi. These units were driven out by order of the Delhi government, following Supreme Court orders on non-confirming industrial units functioning in residential areas. The ones that have set up shop in Karkar Model are highly polluting.

Apart from contaminating Karkar's air and water, these units have divided the village polity. When affected by pollution from a nearby factory, villagers were able to get together and enforce norms. They would approach authorities, sometimes also resorting to violence to draw attention to their plight. But when it comes to the illegal units functioning out of rented houses inside the village, the village community is split. Those who earn from rentals are against any action on these units. This leaves those opposed to the pollution to fight their own neighbours, friends and relations. Consequently, hardly any collaborative action against pollution has occurred from inside the village. No resident here is a high-profile lawyer, so its case will not make it to the Supreme Court.

This is another example of the limitations of judicial activism. People with greater resources possess more ability to hire expensive lawyers, or gather evidence to back their case. On top of that, a lot of public interest cases are actually middle class interest cases. So, Delhi's middle class can live in relatively cleaner environs, offloading their muck, even though it is they that consume a large chunk of the commodities these polluting units make.

The option for villages such as Karkar Model are seriously limited: now, to prevent contamination, they can only fight amongst themselves. Merely pushing out industry further away from cities is therefore no solution, for the units will cheerfully continue to pollute wherever they set up shop. Nor does government's work end by doing the (court-ordered) thing. Indeed, governance begins all over again in the place industry shifts to. Thus regulatory agencies must enforce norms. Not after judicial prodding, but on their own.