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Unplanned growth and marginalized mass transport make NE cities vulnerable
Biswendu Bhattacharjee, Senior Journalist
Unplanned growth and marginalized mass transport make NE cities vulnerable
PHOTO : Agartala Traffic. TIWN Photo

Marginalized mass transport leads chaos in NE cities, unplanned city growth and pro-car policy of the state governments have crippled the mass transport means in northeastern towns leading to enormous pollution, ill health of citizens and above all the precious fuel wastage, latest study of New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) commented.

 The report identified public transport, walking, and cycling are actually the strengths of northeastern states but pro-car policies destroyed this advantage. It suggested that the NE cities must scale up public transport, integrated multi-modal transport options, car restraint and walking for not only maintaining ambience but also of clean, pollution free air.

The limited air quality monitoring in the states of the north east region shows that 68 per cent of all cities monitored in the region have particulate matter levels higher than the standards and one-third of Northeastern citizens live in critically polluted areas.

CSE observes the major cities of Northeast including Agartala have begun to take steps to control air pollution. But most cities while taking steps in meeting air quality and transportation challenges are also making mistakes in promoting cars that negate their efforts. These cities need to protect their inherent strength in sustainable commuting practices – public transport, walking and cycling including the city design.

Arrival of vehicles in all the townships in large number is bringing in pollution to the nose level of people and increasing risk. Emerging science shows that warming depends not only on the accumulated concentration of CO2 but also on the intensity of emissions of short-lived pollutants with much higher warming potential. The study has shown that high levels of black carbon pollution in Guwahati responsible for accelerating glacier melt in the Himalayas and its adjoining cities and towns.

Guwahati is experiencing extreme regional climate change already.  Study calculated that on an average the high level of pollutants has resulted in increased daily temperature of 2 degrees Celsius. The Brahmaputra River Valley affects the climate. These pollutants are also carcinogenic and a serious health hazard.

In cities like Gwuahati the Desert Research Institute and NASA report shows that more than 400,000 vehicles ply in Guwahati’s roads. About 70% of these vehicles don’t have emission clearance certificates, and emit excessive amounts of black carbon and other very toxic pollutants. Unplanned and open burning of solid waste disposal is also aggravating the problem…CPCB has also identified High traffic congestions because of cars in the eleven spots of northeast. 

Northeast have already initiated a wide gamut of measures like expansion of air quality monitoring in several states, introduction of Euro II and Euro III emissions standards and fuel quality, introduction of unleaded petrol, introduction of LPG vehicles in some states and CNG in Tripura. Action on non-motorised transport – cycle, cycle rickshaws, and pedestrianisation and expansion of bus transport etc. The CPCB has adjudged Mizoram as the state which took the best steps against air pollution under the National Ambient Air Monitoring Program. Goa, Kerala and Pondicherry now follow Mizoram.

These grades are given after examining the steps taken by states for a clean environment. CNG is one of the most important programmes with more than 70 per cent of the city’s fleet running on clean fuel. Studies carried out in Agartala have already shown that the CNG programme has helped prevent 4,260 premature deaths annually in the city. The health cost savings is close to 1 per cent of the GDP. The north-eastern states together have 2.7 million registered vehicles. Assam comprises the largest vehicle fleet share (59%) followed by Nagaland (10%), Manipur (7.7%), Tripura (7%). Meghalaya (6.4%), Arunachal Pradesh (5.4%), Mizoram (3.4%) and Sikkim with the lowest vehicle fleet (1.4%).

There are only three bus transport undertakings in this region with 0.1% of the total fleet strength of all state transport corporation (STC) but these are not performing well given the enormous burden of inefficiency and costs. Meghalaya STC has the lowest number of employees at 307; Mizoram STC has the highest number of staff per bus (13.83); Tripura RTC has the largest decline in the proportion of fleet utilization from 70.2% during 2010-11 to 60.3% during 2011-12. Mizoram STC has the lowest vehicle productivity (49.7 km/bus/day) Tripura RTC: biggest decline in vehicle productivity (22.2 km/bus/day); Meghalaya STC: highest increase in fuel efficiency at 0.51 km/litre during 2011-12; Mizoram ST: Lowest staff productivity at 3.59 km/worker/day, Mizoram ST carried the lowest number of person at 0.7 lakh.

With growing motorization public spaces are coming under enormous parking pressure. According to a study carried out under the aegis of the ministry of urban development about 45 per cent of the roads in Guwahati and 31 per cent of road in Gangtok are under parking encroachment. These towns how very high congestion index, poor walk-ability score and unacceptable level of road safety. Pollution and congestion can discourage tourism in the region which is a new growth area which can promote ecologically responsible tourism and sustainable transportation mode for all.

Hill towns in the region will require special plans to reduce traffic volume on the road. The strategies for the hill towns will have to be crafted differently. Create dense and walk-able street network and pedestrian plazas wherever possible; use car restraint measures; provide alternative public transport and well organized paratransit connectivity, and so forth.

Introduce a parking policy to reduce congestion and car usage: Unlimited parking can erode available urban commons and public spaces and incite more car usage. Limit parking and price it high. Use tax measures to discourage personal vehicle usage and inefficient use of fuels: Additional revenue from this and parking should be used to improve alternatives to cars.

The CSE suggested the northeastern states to design roads for public transport, cycling and walking - not for cars. This is the option for the city to cut killer pollution, crippling congestion, expensive oil guzzling and global warming impacts of vehicles.

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