Study finds cities like Pune grappling with air pollution

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Radheshyam Jadhav, TNN | Oct 7, 2013
PUNE: Smaller cities, experiencing a more rapid shift to personal vehicles in the absence of adequate investment in a strong public transport system, are struggling with severe air pollution, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) research has observed.

Such is the situation that if two-wheelers are added to cars, the rate of personal motorisation in cities has already exceeded that of the West, the research added.

‘Good News Bad News: Clearing the Air in Indian Cities’, a research study by CSE’s air pollution and sustainable urbanisation experts, has given an assessment of the Indian cities and how they fare on parameters such as air quality, public transport, walkability, parking policies and fiscal initiatives.

“Air pollution has become the fifth largest killer, and the seventh biggest illness burden in India as per the Global Burden of Disease report, released in 2013. Data from the new cancer registry, released by the Indian Council of Medical Research in 2013, gives chilling evidence of the high incidence of lung cancer in cities. Rapid motorisation, the face of growth today, is also hurtling cities towards energy guzzling and heat trapping gases,” said Sunita Narain, director general, CSE in a press statement issued last week.

The observations are apt for Pune too. The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has planned many flyovers across the city to mitigate the growing traffic problem with little or no consideration for non-motorised traffic like cyclists and pedestrians.

The poor standard of services and overall condition of Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Limited (PMPML) has spurred people to drive their own vehicles.

The logic of constructing flyovers to ease congestion and sideline non-motorized options beats the Pune Municipal Corporation’s Comprehensive Mobility Plan (CMP) approved by the general body. The plan aims at “moving people safely and economically by emphasizing public transport and non-motorized transport”. The city is also among the most polluted in the country with rising noise, air and visual pollution.

Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE’s executive director-research and advocacy, said, “Sprawls and flyovers are now increasing distances, while one-way streets, subways and foot overbridges are pushing people, hawkers and street activities out. On isolated roads, safety of people is compromised to protect the car. At the same time, road design to increase the speed of cars is adding to the accident risk.”

The research states that taxes, fuel pricing and parking charges do not include the cost of damage cars impose on society. On the contrary, mass carriers like buses are made to pay more taxes for carrying more people as the government treats it as a commercial business, and not a matter of public good to be supported.

“We need measures to change urban design to make cities safe, more walkable, and public transport friendly,” Roychowdhury added.

The study finds that the action in mega and big metros is more layered, diverse and extensive. This is partly because of the attention they have, investments they have drawn, and strident and aggressive public opinion and media pressure. Initiatives in smaller cities are often singular or limited in scope but with strong potential.