Concern over poor air quality and traffic congestion in Gurgaon: action must gather momentum to protect public health

January 05, 2015

  • Gurgaon, planned as a counter magnet to decongest Delhi, is in grip of deadly pollution and congestion. This has emerged from the collaborative workshop of the Artemis Hospital and Centre for Science and Environment Our City, We Care: Action for Cleaner Air, held in Gurgaon today. 

  • Centre for Science and Environment has also released the findings of its review and exposure monitoring in Gurgaon. This is a unique initiative to assess how much pollution people breathe on a daily basis when the overall winter pollution levels are already high. 

  • Whle 24 hour average is 12 times higher than the daily standard, more shorter term exposure in different parts of Gurgaon are also significantly higher than the official background ambient levels recorded in the month of November and December so far.  

  • Gurgaon will have to reinvent sustainable mobility for the rich to prevent worsening pollution, public health risk growing congestion and fuel wastage. The challenge is unique in this affluent city with one of the highest personal vehicle ownership– even higher than the mega cities like Delhi and affluent cities like Chandigarh

Gurgaon, December 23, 2014: Gurgaon, one of the most prominent cities in the National Capital Region (NCR), needs strong measures to stave off a looming pollution and public health crisis: its air quality is worsening every day, and congestion and traffic gridlock has turned it into a commuters’ and residents’ nightmare. Artemis Hospital, Gurgaon – one of the foremost names in healthcare in the city -- and Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the New Delhi-based research and advocacy body jointly organised a collaborative workshop here today on Our City, We Care: Action for Cleaner Air. 

The workshop was organised to understand the magnitude of the problem of air pollution in Gurgaon and discuss the solutions to this daunting public health crisis. Though Gurgaon has begun to take steps to control air pollution, limited information on air quality and health risks and awareness delays effective solutions. Exploding traffic volume is negating pollution control efforts. The city needs to protect the inherent strength in sustainable commuting practices – public transport, walking, and cycling.

Today’s ‘City Dialogue -- Our City We Care: Action for Cleaner Air’, brought together city transport planners, experts and civil society. 

On this occasion, CSE presented the findings of its recent review of the state of the air, public health risk and the status of action in Gurgaon. Some of the key findings are: 

1. Air pollution challenge in Gurgaon: Gurgaon has delayed setting up of an adequate air quality monitoring grid. As a result, extremely limited pollution data is available for the city from only one monitoring station housed in the office of the State Pollution Control Board, which is also not the most representative site for the city. The official air quality data is released on a monthly basis and withdrawn thereafter. This makes constructing long term air quality trends difficult. The available data for the winter month of November 2014 shows that the PM10 levels have exceeded the air quality standard on 28 days in the month. Of these, 16 days were critically polluted days, and 12 were high pollution days, according to the classification of the Central Pollution Control Board. During the first fortnight of December the PM10 levels has exceeded on 10 days. One day was critical, and nine were high. This is extremely dangerous for people suffering from asthma and other respiratory and cardiac problems, and also for children and the elderly. Gurgaon will also have to strengthen its air quality monitoring of all key pollutants to give out robust data and capture the risk to public health.

2. CSE organises exposure monitoring in Gurgaon: The official monitoring system of Gurgaon helps capture the ambient pollution level in the city -- but not the actual exposure of people to different pollution situations. What do Gurgaon’s people breathe on a daily basis? CSE used a state-of-the-art portable air quality monitoring equipment to track how much pollution an individual is exposed to in Gurgaon while doing the daily chores. This is a unique initiative to assess how much pollution people breathe on a daily basis when the overall winter pollution levels are already high. This dust track aerosol monitor measures both mass and size fraction of the particulate matter. A 24-hour real time monitoring was carried out on assigned days in the second week of December targeting key locations in the city. The CSE exposure data is quite shocking – it has found that daily personal exposure to toxic air is significantly higher than the background ambient air pollution that is monitored by the state pollution control board. This is a serious risk to public health.

• The 24 hour average data is several times higher than the daily standard: The 24 hour exposure monitoring on December 18-19 was recorded at 777 microgramme per cubic metre -- about 12 times higher than the standard of 60 microgramme per cubic metre. This travel during the day covered IFFCO Chowk-Cyber Green Office area- Sohna Road- Artemis hospital- Amity International School- Medanta-Rajiv Chowk- Civil Hospital-Sadar Bazar-Udyog Vihar. The hourly average of PM2.5 during evening peak at IFFCO Chowk was as high as 996 microgramme per cubic metre. In the late evening PM2.5 level even crossed 1,094 microgramme per cubic metre at Cyber Greens Office area. 

• High exposure during night: Pollution levels are usually expected to be low during nights and early mornings. But cool and calm nights worsen the inversion effect, coupled with high pollution from truck traffic entering the city. The level continued to remain elevated all through the night. Night time pollution inside the home close to Sohna Road remained elevated at 850 microgramme per cubic metre. This is mainly because of intense truck traffic through the key highways and expressways cutting through the city. 

• Early morning inversion condition worsens pollution impacts. But this is the time when children go to school and people do their daily walk for fitness. The hourly averages around this time were found to be extremely high. This clearly shows how smog build-up during nights and early mornings can harm people when they are doing physical exercises for their health. During morning hours, the hourly levels near Artemis and during mid-morning near Amity International School, were more than 738 microgramme per cubic metre.

• High levels in busy market areas and public transport nodes with high footfalls: The levels near Civil Hospital (Sadar Bazaar, old Gurgaon) was 580 microgramme per cubic metre around noon. In Udyog Vihar the levels in the afternoon was 550 microgramme per cubic metre. Late afternoon near MGF Mall on MG Road was 675 microgramme per cubic metre. Green and clean part of Gurgaon showed exceptionally high values for particulate matter.

Cost of inaction: Our health
According to the Global Burden of Disease estimates air pollution related diseases have emerged as the fifth largest killer in India. Millions of productive life years are lost due to premature deaths and illness. Though there are no Gurgaon specific health impact studies but both global and national studies have already exposed very strong insidious link between air pollution and public health. CSE has reviewed available health studies in India.  Since 2000, at least one study a year has been published in Delhi to give clinching evidence of smog's toxic risk. Many of these studies in the have been carried out by doctors from All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute, St Stephens Hospital and others in Delhi. Over the years they have widely reported prevalence of chronic respiratory symptoms; increase in emergency room visits during winter for asthma, chronic obstructive long disease, and acute coronary event. The reports show the genotoxic effect of vehicular fumes; vitamin D deficiency among Delhi children in polluted localities which increases risk of developing rickets; significant increase in eye symptoms and disorder in polluted areas. 

Most extensive scary evidences have come from the epidemiological study on children in Delhi carried out by CPCB and Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute in Kolkata and published in 2012. This study had covered 11,628 school-going children from 36 schools in different parts of Delhi and in different seasons.  Every third child has reduced lung function. There is evidence to show greater exposure to particulate pollution. Sputum of Delhi’s children contains four times more iron-laden macrophages than those from cleaner environs, indicating pulmonary hemorrhage.  They have found the level of these bio markers in children higher in areas with high PM10 levels. The World Allergy Organisation (WAO) Journal also published in 2013 reported high respiratory disorder symptoms in students residing in Chandni Chowk (66 per cent) in north Delhi, Mayapuri (59 per cent) in west Delhi and Sarojini Nagar (46 per cent) in south Delhi. Heavy traffic movement has been found to be the factor in the relative difference among the localities. WAO also alerts that allergic problems will increase further as air pollution increases. 

Globally, health impact studies are now linking with a wide range of health outcomes including respiratory, cardiopulmonary disease, stroke, blood pressure, diabetes, cancer among others.  

Vehicles are a major cause of concern 
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. 

Gurgaon is in grip of rapid motorization: 

  • Very high vehicle ownership: It is stunning that the vehicle ownership in the city is among the highest in the country. Its even higher than Delhi and Chandigarh that are known to have highest per capita income. The census data shows that Gurgaon has 232 cars and two-wheelers per 1,000 people, Chandigarh has 172 cars and two-wheelers per 1,000 people, and Delhi has 120 cars and two-wheelers per 1,000. In Gurgaon 43 per cent of households own two-wheelers, 33 per cent of household own cars. In Delhi 20 per cent of households own cars. 

  • High rate of motorization will soon strain urban infrastructure: Though the size of the city and the length of the road network of Gurgaon is much less than Delhi’s, the vehicle density is much higher. This means road availability per 1,000 vehicles is much lower than in Delhi. Chandigarh has 441,284 vehicles per 1,000 km of road length whereas Delhi has 243,783 vehicles per 1,000 km of road length. This puts a limit to the growth of vehicle-based infrastructure. Chandigarh will use up its available space quicker.  

  • More cars and bigger cars will incite fuel guzzling: With high per capita car ownerhip, there is also a risk to energy insecurity and high emissions of heat trapping carbon-dioxide. This is exactly the experience of the rich Western world. Not only the car numbers are increasing, the markets are also shifting steadily towards bigger cars. This can incite energy guzzling. Cities need fuel efficiency measures and standards to conserve fuel. 

  • Dieselisation is aggravating cancer risk in our cities: Overall diesel consumption has increased in the country and in the NCR. Lure of cheaper diesel, long distance travel are pushing up demand for diesel cars and SUVs. Freight transport is also adding to that risk as India does not have clean diesel. In 2013 the WHO has reclassified diesel emissions as class I carcinogen putting it in the same class as tobacco, for its strong link with lung cancer. NCR needs active policy to control dieselization and leapfrog to Euro VI emissions standards. The emissions standards for vehicles that are patterned along the line of European standards are close to 10 years behind Europe. But the truck traffic that cut across the regions are of even poorer quality 15-20 years behind Europe.  

Mobility crisis and air pollution

• Steep decline in public transport ridership and very high increase in personal vehicle usage in Gurgaon: In 2004 personal transport trips were 39 per cent that increased to as much as 60 per cent in 2010. The share of public transport, walk and cycle has dropped from 58 per cent to 40 per cent. This is of serious concern at a time when exposure to pollution has increased dramatically and the city is fighting a serious battle with congestion. Bus numbers have not increased appreciably and bus infrastructure has not expanded. 

• Public transport penetration is poor: Gurgaon has a metro line and it has also started to increase its bus numbers. But overall the urban design of the city is not conducive to enable deeper penetration of public transport system into neighbourhoods. Poor last mile connectivity and lack of integrated design for public transport and impedes easy access to public transport system. The urban design of the city also does not allow deeper bus entry into neighbourhoods of sectors. The city now needs scale and integration of bus and other modes while maintaining reliability and frequency of quality service to attract people. 

• Short travel distances in the city make this city walkable and cycle friendly. Yet this strength is not being nurtured: Yet Gurgaon has huge advantage in the dominance of short distance travel. More than 45 per cent of trips are between 0-2 kms; 8% of trips are between 2-6 kms; and 8% between -10 kms. Maximum daily trips are less than 5 kilometers. This is evident from Integrated Mobility Plan for Gurgaon Manesar Urban Complex, 2010. The maximum trip lengths are covered by buses but due to their less availability, people have to depend on personal modes. Gurgaon should leverage this advantage to convert major part of the short distance motorized trips into motorized trips. 

• Only more roads are not the answer: Learn from Delhi. 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 66 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. Gurgaon must not repeat the mistakes of Delhi. Car-centric policy is steadily marginalising and edging out the sustainable modes including bus and non-motorised trips. In Delhi, bus ridership has dropped from 60 per cent in 2000 to 40 per cent now while its Master Plan has set a target of 80 per cent of public transport ridership by 2020. Traffic jams lead to fuel wastage, more pollution and serious economic losses. 

• City designed for high speed affects road safety, impact the most vulnerable – pedestrians and two-wheeler riders: The WHO now includes road injuries and road accident deaths in their calculation to estimate the health and disability burden associated with motorization. As the road design continues to give priority to movement and speed of vehicles, number of accidents is rising in the city. According to the data from the Gurgaon Traffic Police the city reports more than one death per 1000 people in road accidents. More than 60 per cent of injuries are reported during day. The major Highways that cut across the city add to the accident risk. 60 per cent of accidents occur on NH-8 expressway. When globally the trend is towards reducing vehicular speed inside cities, our cities are adopting road design to increase speed of vehicles. 

• Parking -- cars one of the biggest encroachers on urban space: Since cars require multiple spaces while a person commutes in the city, the area under parking could be much higher. Personal vehicles demand enormous land area for parking. The limited urban space used for parking can have other and more important uses. In Gurgaon, current registration of cars creates demand for land for parking equal to 179 football fields. 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. All this is driven by explosive increase in personal vehicles. The data available for key locations including Cyber Park, Huda Shopping Complex, Fountain Chaok, Sethi Chaowk, Vishwakarma Road, MG Road etc show that 80 to 90 per cent of vehicles in the parking areas are cars and two-wheelers. Only in some areas autos that are part of intermediate public transport, have substantial presence. Personal vehicles are therefore making enormous pressure not only on road space but also on public spaces. 

Yet most of the parkers are short term parkers. More than 80% of the vehicles are parked less than one hour. Short term parkers are more at commercial areas. With an effective parking pricing strategy this parking pressure can be reduced effectively. 

Findings of CSE audit of multi-modal integration in Gurgaon:
To reduce air pollution vehicle numbers will have to be reduced. This will require scaling up of public transport, walking and cycling. But the way the city is designed today is not conducive to make public transport usage, walking and cycling attractive. Gurgaon has a metro line that connects it to Delhi and also a formal bus system. CSE has carried out rapid survey of the nature of the integration of the two modes along with the last mile connectivity that is needed to make public transport usage attractive and efficient. For this audit CSE has taken the draft norms for connectivity and multi-modal integration that is being developed by the UTTIPEC under DDA as a reference benchmark. For the purpose of the study the road from HUDA city centre metro station to Sikanderpur metro station was selected, - a 3 km stretch which is a 8 lane road with heavy traffic. Both bus routes and metro lines run parallel but with little integration and feeder system. The total length of the segment is around 3kms. This brings out the following:

• Very poor access and connectivity to metro station: The audit has assessed interconnected street network that allows movement of, their engineering and design features for footpath and cycle track; crossing- Intersection and mid section protection for pedestrians and public transport users; modal interchange locations and parking for all mode users; location and quality of facilities outside station premises, way finding maps; universal accessibility; amenities and safety features  ( Toilet, vendor space, trees, lighting, seating ), and building entry locations and public transport feeder services. This was particularly done within the 500 meter radius from the Metro stations. The scoring was ascribed accordingly. All metro stations show very poor ranking on that basis. The access to metro stations is not designed keeping pedestrians and cyclists – who are the potential users of metro, in mind. There are no safe crossings around any metro stations for walkers and cyclists. Footpaths are available mainly all around the metro stations but their height and quality does not allow people to use them. There are no cycle tracks, except some near HUDA city centre, which is not usable as it’s a one way road. Autos, Cycle rickshaws are the major feeder services along the metro stations. There are hardly any bus stops outside metro stations. Parking is provided mainly for private vehicles. Autos and cycle rickshaws play along the road outside metro stations as no designated parking lots are provided for feeder services

• Urban design is not compact enough to allow buses and para transit to penetrate deep into neighbourhoods. This makes use of public transport difficult: CSE audit also shows that all residential neighbourhoods along the metro line are poorly connected with the transit lines. This is against the principle of  transit oriented development. 

• Buses pay more taxes than cars: Haryana transport department charges road tax (called token tax) for cars as per the value of the vehicle. The tax slab ranges from up to Rs. 6.00 lakh to car of the value exceeding Rs. 20.00 lakh and the tax rates range from 3% of the value of the car to 9% of the value of the car. This way, a car costing Rs 6 lakh needs to pay Rs 18,000 at the time of registration. Stage carriage bus need to pay Rs 550 per seat per annum subject to a maximum of Rs 35,000. On the other hand a Stage carriage City Private Bus plying in Faridabad and Gurgaon need to pay Rs 18,000 for half body bus per annum and 30,000 for full body bus per annum. In summary, the imposition of taxes on private vehicles is negligible vis-a-vis that of public transport buses. Moreover, the tax rates are per passenger seat basis. But cars need to be taxed higher than buses (something which many other countries are already doing). 

People of Gurgaon want change: Rapid citizens’ perception survey
CSE’s rapid survey to understand people’s perception of air pollution and mobility problems in Gurgaon. The preliminary results capture the mood…. 

About 85% say air pollution is worsening. About 40% feel incidences of respiratory diseases are rising.

  • More than 60% have complained of increased delays during peak hours

  • About 40- 50% percent are in favor of cycle and cycle rickshaw infrastructure.

  • The public transport has got the worst rating, with people complaining the city having no proper public transport connectivity .

  • About 30% rated the auto/tempo services as average but say they are important.

  • About two third think parking is causing encroachment of footpaths and causing congestion on roads

  • Nearly 70%, think government should make efforts to reduce dependence on personal vehicles.

  • Around 90% want more action to increase public transport and non motorised infrastructure.

Need second generation action
Expand air quality monitoring and daily reporting with health advisories. Implement pollution emergency measures: Exposure monitoring based on new emerging low cost but advanced sensor-based monitoring equipments can become a game changer in air quality monitoring globally. Needed to bridge the gap in data availability to citizens and assess personal exposure.

Improve and scale up public transport and last mile connectivity. Gurgaon needs to improve people carrying capacity of roads: Road space is limited and finite. But it is possible to improve people carrying capacity of roads by influencing travel choices. Even 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. If this trend continues the capacity of roads to carry more people will reduce drastically. The planning challenge is to improve mass modes and people carrying capacity of roads as per the principle of the National Urban Transport Policy that states ‘plan for people not vehicles’. Ensure reliable and frequent services, GPS enabled public information system; multi-modal integration for metro and bus and last mile connectivity.

Design roads for public transport, cycling and walking. Implement non-motorised network plan for time-bound implementation: Mandate people and cycling friendly street design guidelines and standards for all roads. These should be made mandatory for approval of road network projects in Delhi. Protect walkways and cycle tracks from encroachment and ensure safe crossing. Implement the provision of Motor Vehicle Act 1988 that bars vehicles from being parked on pavements. The city plans to build Metro and BRT systems. But such enormous investment may remain suboptimal and underutilized if they are not made accessible and supported with efficient last mile connectivity. All public transport trips begin and end as walk trips. Use of public transport therefore can be optimized and scaled up only if walking infrastructure and design to access them improve. Also many short distances motorized trips can be converted to non-motorised trips if proper infrastructure is created.

Restrain growth of cars with parking restraints and taxes: Eliminate free parking. Introduce effectively high and variable parking charges; introduce residential parking permits with fees;. Ban parking on footpaths under the provision of the Motor Vehicle Act 1988. Implement parking management area plans to plan and implement legal parking, ban and penalise illegal parking and rationalise on-street and off-street parking; Prohibit parking in green areas and in neighbourhood parks.

Leapfrog emissions standards: Implement the Air Quality Index with health advisories and pollution emergency measures. Leapfrog emissions standards to Euro V in 2017, and Euro VI in 2020. Nation-wide Euro IV should be in place by 2015. 

Control dieselisation with tax measures: Diesel has been branded as class I carcinogen by WHO. Need fiscal measures to control dieselisation.

Strategies for older cars: The potential impact of banning 15-year-old private vehicles is limited. Studies have shown that the average age of personal vehicles in Delhi is much shorter – four-seven years. Therefore, a variety of strategies is needed to control pollution from on-road vehicles. 

  • Tighten PUC testing method and compliance: Grossly polluting vehicles can occur at any age group or vintage and these will have to be weeded out with a good inspection programme and smoky vehicle checks. 

  • Deploy more advanced in-use monitoring strategies. Integrate on-board diagnostic system for in-use inspection; introduce remote sensing technology for screening on-road vehicles among others. 

  • Make PUC certificate conditional requirement for obtaining annual insurance for vehicles. 

  • Need road worthiness tests for private vehicles. 

  • Divert non-destined trucks and check overloading. 

  • Stringent action on visibly polluting vehicles: Smoky vehicle inspection based on spot check and on-road surveillance, high penalty and instant removal from road can make a difference inside the city as well as along the borders. 

  • For scrappage of old vehicles Implement cleaner emissions standards for new vehicles that will replace older vehicles. Formal scrappage policy must ensure infrastructure to scrap old vehicles and at least 95 per cent of scrapped material is recycled. Implement end-of-pipe regulations for vehicle manufacturers to ensure more than 90 per cent of the material used in cars are recyclable. Implement colour coding of old vehicles of pre-Euro I, Euro I and Euro II vintage and restrict their plying during smog episodes. Impose higher taxes on older vehicles of Euro I and Euro II vehicles. 

Need NCR-wide plan: Expand real-time air quality monitoring in the NCR and implement daily real-time data reporting. 

Implement seamless public transport system in the NCR: Implement NCR-wide seamless bus system and para transit system and remove tolls and tax barriers across borders for public transport within a year under reciprocal agreement; Implement plan for improved rail network

Stop farm fires in the NCR: Make paddy straw burning an offence in the region. Need stringent enforcement under the Air Act 1980 to ban farm fires. This needs be enabled with incentive and subsidy for innovative farming methods that allow mixing of the straw with the soil to act as fertilizer and avoid stubble burning; Promote alternative uses of paddy straw for power generation.

Set up urban transport fund by tapping the revenue sources. 

Implement priority action for power plants, open burning, generator sets and construction.

Need exposure monitoring to complement ambient monitoring: A few static stations for ambient monitoring cannot assess human exposure as pollution levels associated with traffic vary widely within the city.