Delhi's big, very big. And it's only getting bigger. It's already the world's second largest city, but the UN predicts that by 2028 it will have overtaken Tokyo to be the most populous city on Earth. It already suffers from overcrowding, traffic congestion and chronic pollution. Quite how the authorities are going to deal with an extra 10 million people is anyone's guess.
The World's Most Polluted City
If you've visited Delhi in winter, just after the city lets off a gazillion Diwali firecrackers, and farmers in surrounding regions start stubble-burning their fields, then you won't need the World Health Organization (WHO) to confirm that Delhi is the most polluted city on the planet. And it is. The next six most polluted cities are all within shouting distance too. It's not polluted all the time, but when it is, particularly in those cooler winter months, there's no escaping it. Smog masks can help, so long as they are fitted properly, but generally speaking if you're in Delhi at this time of year, you're just going to have to deal with the fact that you're breathing in unhealthy air.
Motor vehicle emissions are, of course, one of the causes – Delhi's traffic is terrible at times – but there's also been the issue of the Badarpur Thermal Power Station, a coal-fired power plant built in 1973, and which despite producing less than 8% of the city's electric power, used to produce 80 to 90% of the pollution from Delhi's electric power sector. During the so-called Great Smog of Delhi in November 2017 – so bad it halted play in a Test match between Sri Lanka and India – the plant was temporarily shut down to alleviate acute air pollution, but it was allowed to restart again in February 2018.
A Cleaner Future?
The Supreme Court of India has now banned the sale of firecrackers in Delhi to help alleviate pollution (they are still let off during Diwali, though). And authorities have announced plans to introduce a congestion charge, but it's been mentioned before and hasn't materialised. The continuing expansion of the Delhi Metro is certainly a step in the right direction, though, and the city's metro system is forecast to soon become the world's fourth largest, which should take some pressure off the roads.
The great news is that Badarpur Thermal Power Station was finally closed for good in October 2018, and authorities now plan to turn its vast, 900-hectare ash pond into an eco-park.
In December 2012, the world was shocked by the story of the brutal gang-rape of Jyoti Singh, an Indian student nurse living in Delhi, who was attacked by a group of men on a private bus as she travelled home from the cinema one evening in Delhi, and later died of her injuries. Protests were held across India by women and human rights activists calling for the government to tackle the issue of sexualised violence. But more than six years on, it seems there's still a long way to go.
Steps have been made in the right direction. Gender sensitisation is the new phrase as the country tries to change deeply ingrained attitudes about male and female roles. Taxi drivers now get lessons in why they cannot leer at their passengers. The country’s first all-woman police station opened in Gurgaon; there are now 500 nationwide. And there have been some milestone victories, including the Supreme Court’s decision to rule as unconstitutional the 'triple talaq' practice, which allowed a man to divorce his wife by saying talaq (Arabic for divorce) three times.
But it's an uphill battle. Many men brought up seeing their mothers doing all the household chores expect the same of their wives. And there are still widely held beliefs that girls who go out to bars and drink with boys are not decent Indian girls but Westernised and sexually permissive.
Gay Pride has been an annual event in Delhi since 2007, but the 2018 event was the biggest yet, coming as it did just weeks after the Supreme Court's landmark ruling to overturn Section 377, a colonial law introduced by the British in 1861 that had criminalised gay sex. Participants waved rainbow flags and placards emblazoned with 'Love Wins' and 'Adios 377'. The next step is for India's LGBTQ+ community to be granted civil rights such as same-sex marriage, inheritance of property, and sharing insurance, although the Hindustan Times reported after the ruling that government insiders have admitted this is unlikely to happen any time soon.