Environmentilists suggest that for a healthier living, especially in big cities, the easiest measures are to scale up public transport, increase integrated multi-modal transport options, car restraint and increase walking and cycling. And for all this, the change has to begin first in the mindset of the masses.
In Lucknow to attend a workshop on clean air and sustainable mobility, Bhure Lal, chairperson, Environment Pollution (prevention and control) Authority for National Capital Region, spoke to Uday India on the state of affairs in the second rung cities where the vehicular emission issue has already acquired enormous propotions.
He said that it is very important to instil a feeling of belongingness in the minds of masses and let them realise the danger that they are creating for themselves and the generations to follow.
“The challenge facing our second rung cities is more daunting than that facing our mega urban centres,” Lal said. He suggested that the government must make sure that it starts encouraging and patting the back of pedestrian and cyclists and give them special concessions, including separate pathways so that they feel safe and wanted.
“We must salute and duly acknowledge the role of both pedestrians and cyclists in pollution control. Instead of making them feel like poor cousins we must acknowledge their contribution to safeguarding our environment by making our traffic system more conducive for them,” said Lal suggesting that we must weave in special pedestrian and cyclist island in our traffic planning.
Lal siad that we must instil in the public the harsh truth that more fuels will lead to more pollution and health risks for the user and others. “Remember what WHO has said—either more fuels or carcinogenics in 2013,” explained Lal, adding that either we can have a city which is car -friendly or one which is people-friendly. It is the common man who has to choose what he wants.
Emphasising that transport planning should come first before town planning Lal said that unaurthorised construction must be nipped in the bud through implementation of powerful environment laws. He also advised that parkings be made at adequate places and certainly not on a green cover and playground.
Earlier setting the agenda at the workshop which was jointly organised by Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) and Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director, CSE, said that emerging cities, so far neglected in air quality management, need urgent intervention and deeper understanding of their unique challenges and solutions for immediate preventive action. She said these cities are growing rapidly and threatening to worsen the pollution and congestion nightmare.
“They need second generation action, including technology leapfrog, scaling up of public transport, integrated multi-modal transport options, car restraints and walking for clean air.”
She quoted estimates of a study by Global Burden of Disease which say that one-fifth of deaths in India occurred from outdoor air pollution. It has also been brought to light by a CSE study that it is the second rung cities like Lucknow, Chandigarh, which are the main culprits. Improving urban air quality and protecting sustainable urban commuting practices are some of the toughest challenges.
What discourages usage of public transport
■ Poor , ill-equipped, ill-maintained public transport, especially buses;
■ Long distances that one has to walk to get public transport.
Very high levels of killer particles
■ PM10: All cities exceed the standard. Allahabad, Ghaziabad, Kanpur and Bareilly have highest critical levels 4 times the standard. Firozabad, Agra, Mathura, Saharanpur, Lucknow, Khurja, Rae Bareli, Moradabad and Gajraula have levels 3 times the standard. Jhansi, Gorakhpur, Meerut, Sonbhadra, Noida and Varanasi have levels twice the standard.
■ NO2: Meerut, Gorakhpur, Ghaziabad, Noida and Kanpur show a rising trend.
■ SO2: Levels under control in almost all cities—except in Ghaziabad and Khurja.
■ Multi-pollutant crisis: Most cities are hit by rising levels of not one, but several pollutants, for instance, Ghaziabad, Khurja and Mathura have critical levels of PM10 and also higher SO2 than other UP cities.
A public health challenge
■ A study for Kanpur by the GSVM Medical College and CPCB shows lower lung function for people living in Vikas Nagar and Juhilal Colony than those living in a cleaner environment.
■ UPENVIS has shown that in entire Uttar Pradesh, 0.4 million disability adjusted life years are lost due to air pollution—this costs the state about Rs 2.6 billion.
■ A study by Usha Gupta Institute of Economic Growth and Bhimrao Ambedkar College has estimated that Kanpur can save Rs 213 million if it meets air quality standards.
Motorisation trends in UP rising
■ Rapid growth: Among the states of north, UP has witnessed the highest rate of growth in motor vehicles. It has the highest number of registered vehicles (13.3 million) followed by Haryana (5.4 million) and Punjab (5.3 million).
■ Unique trend of the emerging cities: The emerging cities traditionally have high walk and cycle share and also impressive usage of paratransit, including autos and cycle rickshaws. But as these systems come under pressure because of policy neglect, people steadily shift towards personal vehicles.
■ The numbers of cars and atwo-wheelers have already crossed the numbers of walk and cycle trips. Thus these bigger cities are beginning to cross the tipping point.
Challenges of bus reforms
■ Buses play a crucial role in the mobility transition in the big and medium rung cities. Well-managed, well-organised, modern buses at affordable rates are needed. A bus occupies twice the road space taken by a car but carries 40 times the number of passengers. Bus can displace anywhere between 5 and 50 other vehicles and allow enormous oil and pollution savings.
■ The Uttar Pradesh State Transport Corporation is the fifth largest bus corporation in the country. UPRTC is also among the top four profit-making SRTCUs in the country today.
■ It is not more buses but efficient deployment and reliable and attractive services that are needed.
Private vehicle usage in these cities will increase more than that in the mega cities. Lucknow, Ghaziabad and Chandigarh are in the grip of this growing motorisation. “Unfortunately, these walking and cycling cities are now steadily shifting towards cars and two-wheelers as public transport remains inadequate,” said Anumita.
She expressed satisfaction at the impressive CNG programme in UP cities. Uttar Pradesh has taken the lead in building up the CNG programme in the region. Several cities of UP, including Lucknow, Kanpur, Agra, Bareilly and Meerut, have established CNG programme helping to cut the toxic diesel emissions. All this is despite CNG prices in UP are among the highest in the country.
She wished that a change will come in the mindset of people and they would not shy away in using bicycles like a Dutch minister who did so and that is also when he had gone to pay an official call on Royalty.
By Kulsum Mustafa from Lucknow