Last Updated: Friday 10 July 2015

Don't trundle into oblivion

The West Bengal state transport minister declared on August 20, 1992, that tramcars would be phased out from Calcutta due to enormous financial losses which the government could no longer subsidise. The tramcars, he said, would be substituted by buses.

This decision does not appear to be reasonable because 5 lakh people still use tramcars. If these passengers are diverted to single-decker buses, the number of buses required will be 5 times more, causing greater air pollution and congestion.

Air pollution has far exceeded the safe limit. The maximum permissible limit of dust particles in 1 cubic metre of space is 90 micrograms, but in Calcutta it has touched 418 micrograms; 78.5 per cent of the 125 metric tonnes of carbon monoxide emitted comes from the exhaust fumes of vehicles. The situation will further worsen if the pollution-free tramcars are withdrawn.

Official apathy has allowed this traditional transport system to become sick. The number of tramcars has been reduced to nearly 200; half this fleet is to be disbanded for repairs. Government subsidising is discriminatory: the subsidy for tramcars is Rs 14 crore annually, whereas for state buses it has gone up to Rs 30 crore.

The decision to wind up the tramways should be deferred until the issues are thrashed out by a body of experts....

Fighting to save Sikkim

We have recently been associated with a group of individuals and organisations in Sikkim, who have been campaigning against the proposed construction of a 30 MW hydel power station on the Rathong Cho river in Yukaan, west Sikkim. The World Wide Fund for Nature has declared Sikkim to be a biodiversity "hotspot"; its rich biodiversity and delicate ecosystem urgently need conservation.

The hydel station will destroy a large tract of virgin forest, displace local communities and devastate sites of religious significance. It will also unleash a host of other potential ill-effects.

The group has filed a writ petition in the concerned high court against the project. In the first hearing on August 16, it managed to get a month's stay to prepare the case and to get access to a competent attorney....

City or gas chamber?

The Indian Institute of Chemical Biology at Jadavpur in Calcutta, a national laboratory under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, is engaged in biomedical research. Among other things, we are concerned about bio-hazards and their origin.

The extent of pollution in Calcutta has reached such alarming levels that we can no long remain indifferent and silent. The unlimited growth of vehicular traffic and uncontrolled auto emissions have made the city a gas chamber. Although legislation and an enforcement machinery do exist to check misuse, auto emission certificates can be purchased on the sly, no matter how polluting the cars are.

Some of the inevitable results of this malpractice are a suspended particulate matter concentration of upto 3,000 micrograms per cubic metre, as against a World Health Organization limit of 100 micrograms per cubic metre. Also, the concentration level of the potently carcinogenic substance benzopyrene is as high as 120 nanogram per cubic metre, in contrast to 1 nanogram per cubic metre in Western cities.

This is, moreover, only a part of the scenario. Incidents of respiratory diseases, asthma and kidney failure are increasing exponentially. The worst sufferers are children and the aged. Noise levels in residential and business areas vary between 80-85 decibels (as of 1988), against a human tolerance limit of 45-55 db. A constant hammering on the ear drum not only causes hearing impairment but also leads to fatigue, hypertension and ulcers. Indiscriminate use of air and electric horns and loudspeakers wreck silence zones. Universities, schools and even hospitals are not spared, even though they are in these zones.

We certainly do not wish people to be confined to their houses. Instead, as part of the anti-pollution drive we have initiated, we suggest a reliance on alternative modes of transport that have been adopted throughout the world, such as plazas for pedestrians and cycles, trams and trolley buses....

On importing dung

The news item, The logic of importing lowly dung (April 15, 1994) is interesting. However, there is a need to ensure that contaminants/pollutants and weeds are not disseminated with imported cow dung. ...

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