Air home
Traffic in Delhi    
By Elisabeth Helseth    

The story about traffic in Delhi is a story of change in terms of leapfrogging technology. The metaphor of leapfrogging shows how Indian cities can avoid making the same environmental mistakes as industrialised countries. They can thus implement environmentally friendly solutions at a much earlier stage.

Delhi has changed its use of extremely dirty fuel and emissions technology to much cleaner options. During the early 1990s it was discovered that Indian cities like Delhi had a very high level of air pollution. This heavy air pollution was mainly due to large amounts of particulate pollution, that threatened people’s health situation. Levels of nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide in the air were also rising.

Photo: Mai Simonsen
In 1995 the Centre for Science and Environment launched a campaign against air pollution in Delhi. This came at a time when air pollution was not on the agenda and one of the main goals of the campaign was to create public awareness. CSE demanded a shift from use of diesel in Indian cities towards Compressed Natural Gas, CNG. This end of the diesel-era in public transport was officially decided in 1998 and in December 2002 the Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) program was implemented.

Anumita Roychowdhury, Associate Director for Research and Advocacy at CSE, claims that; Indian cities still have more leapfrogging to do. Air quality in Delhi has improved, but is still at a critical level of fine particulate matter, which is causing many health problems for the urban population. One source of this pollution is the 100 new cars and private vehicles that are added to Delhi's roads every day. Viewed in a geater context, personal vehicles occupy road space, pollute more and meet less travel demands than public transport. Car parking takes up large spaces and the numbers of big vehicles, like SUVs, are expected to grow rapidly. Still there are no diesel regulations for personal vehicles. Diesel is cheaper than gasoline and thus tempting to use. CNG is the cheapest fuel. However, a car running on CNG will meet the limitations of only moving inside Delhi and other large cities, as CNG refill places are only located in those areas. In Delhi it is clear that the poor are not the worst polluters as they mainly walk, use their bikes or take the bus.
Photo: Mai Simonsen

Delhi is clearly planned for car owners, disregarding the mobility needs of the majority of the population. This calls for a replanning which creates space for public transport. The Bus Rapid Transit System is now under construction in Delhi. It allows for the separation of traffic; giving buses the central lane of the roads. Traditional transport like bicycles, rickshaws and buses should be planned for in the future. Roychowdhury contends that Delhi has the resources to do that, but lacks the will. In order to change the political attitude of the city government, CSE calls for a social movement supporting public transport.

Delhi has taken the first leap. It can now be an example to follow for other cities, in India and worldwide. Roychowdhury is certain that “if you really push for change, then you see change as well”.

Sources : "The Delhi Story: The Leapfrog Factor" and Anumita Roychowdhury