Bhubaneswar needs strong action to stave off looming pollution, energy guzzling and congestion, says latest analysis by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)

  • CSE and Bhubaneswar Development Authority organize City Dialogue on Air Quality and Transportation Challenge: An Agenda for Action
  • Bhubaneswar reflects the unique trend in emerging cities of India. Despite the majority still walking, cycling or using bus it is shifting very rapidly towards personal vehicles. Already 40 per cent -- nearing half of all trips, are on personal vehicles – dominated by two-wheelers. 

  • Without efforts to build and scale up public transport system and infrastructure for walking and cycling there will be steady loss of sustainable commuting practices. 

  • Bhubaneswar will have to reinvent sustainable mobility and preserve its inherent strength to prevent worsening of air pollution, growing congestion and fuel wastage

Bhubaneswar, August 20, 2013: The once clear air of Odisha’s capital is no longer breathable – says a review of Bhubaneswar’s air quality done by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the New Delhi-based research and advocacy body. Of nine cities monitored in the state, Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Balasore have been found to have high levels of air pollution.

In a City Dialogue organised here today by CSE and the Bhubaneswar Development Authority, CSE laid bare the challenge of motorisation in a planned city like Bhubaneswar, where vehicle ownership and motorisation rate have begun to increase, resulting in a hike in pollution levels. Bhubaneswar, in fact, represents a unique challenge of the newly emerging planned cities in India. Traditionally a high walking and cycling city with large use of para transit, it is now moving very rapidly towards personal vehicles dominated by two-wheelers. There is no buffer of efficient formal public transport. 

Says Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director-research and advocacy, CSE: “Bhubaneswar has the chance to avert automobile dependence as its compact urban form and a large base of walking and cycling trips creates the opportunity to leapfrog to a sustainable mobility paradigm.” 

On this occasion, CSE also released the findings of its rapid survey and assessment in Bhubaneswar.

Air quality challenges in Bhubaneswar: After the shocking revelation of the global burden of disease estimates that one fifth of global deaths occur from outdoor air pollution in India, it became necessary to take stock of the problem and the solution to cut the killer pollution in all cities of India. But the air quality review carried out by CSE for Odisha has put the spot light on a rapidly worsening scenario.

• In the grip of killer pollution: For a long time, Bhubaneswar did not have to worry about air pollution. But over the years, its annual average air quality trends have now started showing deterioration. Out of nine cities monitored in Odisha, Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Balasore have high levels. Bhubaneshwar, Angul and Talcher show increasing trends, while Berhampur, Rayagada and Sambalpur meet the standard and have moderate levels. Angul, Rourkela and Talcher have critical levels. While the level of particulate matter – that are very toxic and go deep inside the lungs -- is rising, nitrogen oxide levels are also showing an increase. Angul, Cuttack and Talcher have moderate NO2 levels. All cities are within the standard, but almost all of them show increasing trends.

• Proliferation of pollution hot spots: From public health perspective what matters most is the daily exposure to air pollution that cannot be captured in the annual average levels. Several locations have become pollution hotspots inside cities in terms of daily pollution levels. Out of the 16 locations in Odisha, PM10 levels are critical in several locations in Talcher, Rourkela, Bhubaneswar and Angul; in 12 locations, the levels have exceeded the standard. There is a wide variation in daily exceedance of standard across all locations. In Talcher and Rourkela the levels exceed the standards between 38 per cent to 82 per cent of days monitored.

• No room for complacency: Though the overall particulate levels are comparatively lower than the other regions in the country, they are much above the WHO guidelines. Also the global assessments that are now available from the Global Burden of Disease estimates show that the most of the health effects occur at lower levels. Also, the cities have several local pollution hotspots, and road side exposures are also high. Annual averages do not help to address the risks. Air quality monitoring would need to address these challenges and issue health advisory to people. 

• Health concerns: It may be noted that over the last two decade efforts have been made at local levels to assess the health impacts of air pollution. There is enough evidence to act urgently to reduce the public health risks to children, elderly, poor and all. India will have to take action now to reverse the trend of short term effects as well as the long term toxic effects. For toxic effects to surface there is a long latency period therefore exposure will have to be reduced today. Addressing air pollution and health risk has assumed greater importance after the release of the global burden of disease that has ranked air pollution as the fifth largest killer in India. This has not been assessed adequately in Bhubaneswar. 

• Vehicles are a major cause of concern: Independent research done by various organizations has indicated that vehicles emit significant amount of pollutants in the city. Even in the case of particulate matter that has several sources, vehicles can contribute as much as a quarter of the total load. Vehicle numbers are growing rapidly adding to the tailpipe emissions. Vehicular emissions contribute to significant human exposure as it occurs within our breathing zone. Pollution concentration in our breath is 3-4 times higher than the ambient air concentration. Studies such as those done by SIM Air show that both killer PM2.5 and heat trapping CO2 from the transportation sector will double in Bhubaneswar in the next decade. The share of emissions from four wheelers, cars will be the maximum. 

Mobility crisis 

• Unique trend in motorization in Bhubaneswar: Bhubaneswar is among the emerging cities that traditionally have had high walk and cycle share and also impressive usage of para transit. In the absence of adequate formal public transport people are steadily shifting towards personal vehicles. The share of personal vehicle usage – especially two-wheelers – is already very high. Close to 40 per cent are already using personal vehicles (33 per cent two wheelers) whereas only 12 per cent of the trips are buses. Already 49 per cent – close to half of all households in Bhubaneswar own two-wheelers and 11 per cent own cars. This means more than half of the households in Bhubaneswar have stepped towards personal motorization. The share of personal vehicles may exceed the share of sustainable commuting and cross the tipping point. 

• Learn from Delhi’s experience. More roads are not the answer. Delhi has not been able to solve its problem of pollution and congestion by building more roads and flyovers for cars.  Delhi is most privileged to have more than 21 per cent of its geographical area under road space. Delhi has built the maximum roads and flyovers. Yet its roads are totally gridlocked. Peak hour traffic has even slumped to below 15 km/hour. Cars and two-wheelers in Delhi occupy 90 per cent of the road space but meet less than 20 per cent of the travel demand. More roads are not the answer.

• People carrying capacity of roads in Bhubaneswar declining: CSE has reviewed the traffic data for different intersections and road mid blocks in Bhubaneshwar. It shows that in almost all roads the personal vehicles – cars and two-wheelers dominate. They are 45 to 90 per cent of the traffic. During peak hours, a car carries only 1.5 persons as opposed to a bus carrying at least 40-50 people. Two cars occupy same space as one bus, but carry 20 times less people. This means as the number of cars increase people carrying capacity of road will decline creating pressure for more and more land to build more roads. More roads induce more traffic, aggravate traffic jams. This is against the principle of the National Urban Transport Policy that states – plan for people not vehicles. 

• Impact of car centric infrastructure on travel and CO2 emissions: Bhubaneswar has begun to witness proliferation of flyovers in several intersections as a site specific traffic mitigation measure. As experience from other cities show flyovers and road widening only induce more traffic and relocate congestion without addressing the root cause. But these also disrupt walking, cycling and public transport network, increase travel distances for all modes. This also adds to more energy consumption and pollution. 

• CSE checked out the impact of car centric infrastructure – flyovers, signal free corridors, etc on the travel distances in their vicinity and its impact on carbon emissions in Bhubaneswar. This is diagnostic. For instance, the signal free and barricaded corridor on Rajpath has increased the original crossing distance in the surveyed spot from 100 m direct walk access 1.1 km of detour. This increases CO2 emissions (that depends on the amount of fuel burnt) by 154 g of co2 from one car and by 44 g of CO2 from a two wheeler. On a cumulative basis this increase from the total volume of traffic taking detour increases manifold. Thus, signal free corridors etc convert short distance zero emitting walking and cycling trips to motorized trips and that adds enormously to pollution. 

Nurture the inherent strength of Bhubaneswar 

• The inherent urban design display better design of pedestrian walkways: Bhubaneswar is among the very few planned cities in India. But other planned cities like Chandigarh have been designed as low density with segregated land use and wide roads for high traffic speed. Bhubaneswar has evolved with greater mixed land use. More than 50 per cent of the daily trip length in the city is below 4 km. This is an opportunity to maintain a compact city design and build densities to reduce distances. This makes the city very conducive to using non-motorised transport and public transport systems. The short trip length has also made this city very walkable. This is the low polluting and low carbon mobility that the world is trying to imbibe today. 

• Majority in Bubaneswar use sustainable mode of transport: More than 60 per cent of the daily travel trips in Bhubaneswar are on foot, pedal, cycle rickshaws, buses and auto rickshaws – several times more than those who use cars – a mere 6 per cent. In fact, larger share of trips are on cycle than even buses. It is important to protect and scale up this base line to be able to stay on the track of sustainability. 

• Parking -- cars one of the biggest encroachers on urban space: Personal vehicles demand enormous land area for parking. The limited urban space used for parking can have other and more important uses. In Bhubaneshwar, new registration of cars and two-wheelers every year creates demand for additional land for parking equal to 30 football fields. It will be much more if share of cars increase. Use of valuable urban space is either available free or for a pittance. This is a hidden subsidy to car owners as the cost of using up scarce and valuable urban space for parking is not recovered through proper pricing and taxes. Supply of free parking space can further incite motorisation. It is more important to promote public, common and shared parking to maximize its utility and reduce pressure on land. 

• Buses pay more taxes than cars: Bhubaneswar has just begun to build and expand its bus service. The CSE review shows that almost all state governments tax the buses higher than cars. Bhubaneswar also reflects this national trend. While the cars pay a one time life time tax equivalent to 5 per cent of the vehicle cost, buses pay an annual tax based on the capacity, distance covered per day and nature of service. Thus, a mid segment car pays approximate Rs 2,000 per annum while buses pay taxes to the tune of Rs 40,000 per annum. This needs to be reversed to reduce the overall cost of bus operations and make them viable. Higher taxes on cars can offset the revenue loss. Currently, bus operations are treated as commercial operations and taxed high. But cars need to be taxed higher than buses (something which many other countries are already doing). 

• Bhubaneswar takes the lead in correcting fuel tax differential – ahead of other states: In terms of sales tax on fuels, however, Bhubaneswar taxes both diesel and petrol at an equal rate of 18 per cent. This is a good principle as it does not maintain any differential between the two fuels. At the national level the huge price differential between the two fuels has incited massive shift towards diesel cars adding to the toxic risk. The WHO has reclassified diesel emissions as class I carcinogen. India is dieselising at a level of technology and fuel quality that can compound health risks. There are special concerns about growing use of poor quality diesel. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a wing of the World Health Organization (WHO), has said that diesel engine exhaust can certainly cause cancer, especially lung cancer in humans. This finding comes at a time when India has failed to adopt a clean diesel road map, prevent use of under-taxed and under-priced toxic diesel in cars. 

Way forward

Bhubaneswar has the chance to plan its future growth differently and avoid the path of pollution, congestion and energy guzzling. Soft options have all been exhausted. Reducing personal vehicle usage, upgrading public transport, walking and cycling, and leapfrogging vehicle technology are the key options left for us.  Plan cities for people not vehicles. Design roads for public transport, cycling and walking. Not cars. This is the option for the city to cut killer pollution, crippling congestion, expensive oil guzzling and global warming impacts of vehicles. 

• Strengthen air quality, health monitoring and risk communication: Review the monitoring network keeping in mind the growth in pollution, population exposed and newer challenges like ozone, PM2.5 and toxics. It should strengthen its monitoring grid, deploy air quality forecasting modes, must regularly and systematically monitor the health indicators etc. at the same time implement an air quality index system and health advisory for informing people about ill effects of poor air quality.

• Scale up and accelerate bus transport reforms. Integrate bus, cycling, walking and para-transit systems. The emerging cities require composite plan to scale up, modernize and integrate public transport and non-motorised transport. The roadmap for this must be put in place immediately. 

• Build pedestrian infrastructure: The government should mandate pedestrian plans and make it conditional to infrastructure funding. Investments must be linked with explicit pedestrian and cycling plans. The relevant laws will have to be harmonised and strengthened for more direct legal protection of pedestrian space and rights. We need a comprehensive Road users act for targeted pedestrianisation; segregation of space by users; system of penalty to prevent encroachment in pedestrian space; prevent usurpation of pedestrian space for motorised traffic without proper justification. Implement walkability audits. Public transport plans must include pedestrian plan for multimodal integration. Need zero tolerance policy for accidents. 

• Enforce parking controls, rationalise parking charges on cars: Experience from around the world shows that parking controls, parking pricing along with taxes top the list as the first generation car restraint measures worldwide. CSE’s assessment shows that cars are the becoming the biggest encroachers in Jaipur. At the same time parking charges are minimal, therefore a revision of parking charges has become necessary.

 Set up public transport fund to meet the cost of transition: The cost of transition will be high. This requires innovative financing policy and taxation measures to create dedicated urban transport fund. 


To know more or to set up interviews, please contact Ruchita Bansal at and Sheeba Madan  at / 8860659190.