Winter season is approaching and hope that it will not be a repetition of last year in terms of pollution level in major cities of the country, especially those in Northern India. But the news which we are getting from various parts of the country don’t allow us to be optimistic about the pollution level in the coming winter season and it may be even worse than what we had experienced last year.
Farmers have started burning the stubbles as they don’t have any other option nor the government has taken any concrete steps to avoid them. Though many brick making units have been stopped because of environment un-friendly method of brick making but there is no check on illegal units. Of-course agencies like DDA have undertaken several Green Belt projects in NCR but they may take longer time to have any impact on the climate in the region as the entire program was started very late.
So, we are soon going to face the same situation as we did last year. Cars will ply based on odd-even number (but they will continue to ply). Pedestrians will walk around with mask on hoping that by doing so they won’t inhale polluted air. Air purifying companies will come out with new products claiming their efficiency over their competitors in containing the air pollution related damage to humans. And political parties point fingers at each other for disaster that is happening in the capital of World’s fastest growing economy. And few PIL will be filed in Courts by the so-called activists which may come for hearing only after their problem finds its own solution.
One of the greatest reasons for increasing pollutions in cities is the ever-increasing number of vehicles – two wheelers, four wheelers and trucks. For example, the number of registered vehicles in Mumbai in 2011-2012 was 20 lakh which has crossed 32 lakhs by the end of Calendar year 2017. In other words, number of vehicles has increased by 56% in five years. Or more than one million vehicles were added in Mumbai alone in just five years. In other cities too, the number of vehicles has increased at a rapid pace in last few years thanks to increased disposable income and growing young population in the country. And according to some economists, this pace of increase in vehicles will pick up much faster speed in the coming years as the per capita income of the people in the country grows. Increasing population and also migration to cities from rural areas will add fuel to fire. It also goes without saying that more traffic on roads means more pollution in air.
However, it will be unfair on our part if we don’t say that over the years not only fuel efficiency of the vehicles has increased but also CO2 emissions from individual vehicle are coming down. Stricter emission norms have been able to contain the damage by individual vehicle to environment but the same has been more than nullified by the overall increase in the number of vehicles in use.
Since the 1980s (when vehicle revolution took place in our country with the introduction of Maruti), cars have progressively improved their fuel efficiency to almost double while lowering their emissions by more than 95 per cent. Despite the dramatic improvements, many major cities are still engulfed in a daily cloud of smog. Switching over to electric cars might not be the definite solution to such complex air pollution problems.
More vehicles not only mean more emissions but also, they take away precious land for road construction which otherwise could have been used for construction of houses and parks. It is a common scene in Metros now a days to widen the roads to enable vehicular traffic at the expense of footpath. Studies show that in a motorized city, on average 30% of the surface is devoted to roads while another 20% is required for off-street parking. This implies for each car about 2 off-street and 2 on-street parking spaces.
According to World Bank report, ‘Cities on the Move’, about one-third of all city infrastructure investment need is for the transport sector. The same report also says that of all cities, megacities have the highest travel times, the greatest congestion, and the most polluted environments.
At the same time, it is also true that if more roads and highways are added to the urban environment, you indirectly encourage drivers to use their cars. In order to encourage people not to use cars, our cities need to make it easier for residents to connect between different transport modes.
Though this is a difficult proposition but should not be ruled out as impossible to implement. There are many major cities who have moved to car free environment. For example, by 2020 Madrid plans to ban cars from 500 acres of its core city area. Oslo, Norway has plans to ban all cars from the city centre by 2019. And in Chengdu in China a new residential area has been designed thinking specifically about the needs of pedestrians. The layout makes it easier to walk than drive, and one can move almost anywhere within the neighbourhood in no more than 15 minutes.
So, car less city is the future city and India too has to move in that direction. If we don’t, we only show that we care less about our future generation. So, its high time that we transform ourselves from being careless to a car less society.