Saturday, August 1, 2009

Solution for Air Pollution – Kolkata Experience

Sudhir Gota

Well I am keeping my fingers crossed to see the situation in Kolkata on Monday – August 3/2009. In case you are wondering “what” and “why” Monday – 3rd August is important for all of us – To just backtrack - Monday 3rd august would be the first working day after the vehicles which are older than 15 years are removed from the active service to reduce the pollution in Kolkata. This means a significant chunk of the public transport and intermediate public transport fleet from the roads. Some estimates suggest that approximately 54% of vehicles are “old” and nearly 65% of vehicle population diesel powered. The problem is so injurious that pollutants like PM 10 exceed standards by 1.5 times.

The battleground was judiciary with environmentalists seeking pollution solution in high court. After many deliberations, court in july-2008 gave a ruling to ban commercial vehicles registered before Jan 1, 1993 from Kolkata and its outskirts. The ruling called for implementation of ruling by 31st December 2008. Government realizing the magnitude of problem asked for extension until July 31 – 2009. There were efforts by some transporters to cancel the ruling by approaching higher judicial court (Supreme Court) but the strategy didn’t work and thus the ban had to be forcefully implemented by government.

There was lot of debate among stakeholders as to how severe is the problem. Interesting to note here is the debate among government and transporters as to how many buses would be taken off the roads?

Transporters are arguing that 7,000 out of 12,000 buses would be taken off the roads where as government is suggesting that 2,557 buses out of 21,230. This shows the classic case of not knowing the numbers. If we don’t know the numbers then how do we provide solutions? How do we plan alternate solutions? This takes us back to the question about the preparations for such a ban? What has the government done to provide an alternate solution to the people relying on such facility for transport and earning livelihood?

This question is in everybody’s mind and many kolkatans are bracing up for chaotic next week. I will not be surprised if the city comes to halt on Monday. Adhoc implementation without thinking of alternate solutions pushes people towards private transport. Latest statistics from ministry of Urban Development revel that nearly 58% of people rely on public transport and taxis for their daily travel. How do we accommodate their needs without investing on solutions for them? If every one of us are using green cars do we all really move?

I was surprised to find that Indian government even after launching the urban transport policy still thinks that flyovers are one of the major solutions to air pollution problem. If you don’t believe me than you should read this.