Our respective hells

Where public transport is in shambles and polluting vehicles and rogue industry dictate the quality of air we breathe

Last Updated: Sunday 28 June 2015

Our respective hells


Let us start with Lucknow, which has given the country some of its most recognisable political faces. It was represented in the 12th Lok Sabha by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the prime minister of India. Lucknow qualifies for what the India media calls a 'vip constituency'. But if you look at the air quality statistics, you will begin to wonder why the prime minister's own constituency is in such a state.

In 1992, when Delhi recorded its highest ever maximum spm level at 2,340 g/cum, Lucknow reported a maximum of 254 g/cum. But since then, it rose steadily to 2,339 g/cum in 1997 - more than 11 times the permissible limit set by cpcb for a residential area (200 g/cum) and more than four times that for an industrial area (500 g/cum). On an average, the air of Lucknow throughout 1997 had two-and-a-half times more particles than is considered safe.

"Air pollution is a grave problem here and we have to acknowledge it," says Prem Narain, transport commissioner of the city. In the absence of major industrial units, vehicular emissions account for most of the air pollution. There is no regulated public transport system and the city has about 400,000 vehicles, of which 80 per cent are two-wheelers. For those who cannot afford private vehicles, the only option is the yellow-top, diesel-driven, smoke-belching three-wheeler called Vikram. There are about 7,500 Vikrams in Lucknow and their manufacturer, Scooters India Ltd (sil), a public-sector company, is located on the outskirts of the city. Health experts say prevalence of diseases related to airpollution is rising. H P Kumar, chief medical officer of Lucknow, says 70 per cent of the patients reporting at government hospitals suffer from bronchial asthma. He adds that air pollution also affects the digestive and reproductive systems.

So, what have the authorities done? Actually, very little. Checking tailpipes and fining vehicles without pollution under control (puc) certificates has been a total failure. One often spots a vehicle that has a puc but is emitting thick smoke. "Even if puc certificates are issued, nothing much can be done until a wholesome solution is found. The solution is to move towards electric vehicles or compressed natural gas (cng). Diesel vehicles have to be removed from the city roads," says C S Bhatt, member secretary, Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board. However, Narain feels the time has not come for cng just yet.

An encouraging sign, as Narain informs, has been the active interest of the High Court (hc) in preventing pollution. Following hc orders, there has been an effort to replace diesel-powered Vikrams with battery-driven ones. "We will completely remove the diesel Vikrams from the roads of Lucknow," says Narain. But this exercise has been rather unsuccessful (see box: Diesel assault or battery).

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