EPCA decides on action plan for eight critically polluted cities in India
February 5, 2009
New Delhi, February 5, 2009: Critically polluted cities in India need a massive transition to public transport, running on clean fuel, so that they can deal with the challenge of pollution and congestion. This was the verdict of the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA), the pollution monitoring arm of the Supreme Court, which issued a seven-point agenda of action for improving air quality in India’s cities.
“Over the years, it has become clear that each city is fighting a losing battle against air pollution and growing congestion -- because of the growing numbers of vehicles. Economic progress of our cities will depend on their environmental health. A turnaround is only possible when these cities recognise the need for a transition to public transport and adopt it,” said Bhure Lal, chairperson of the EPCA.
He was talking at a meeting organised here today to discuss the city action plans; the meeting was attended by representatives of pollution control bodies and state administrations from eight of the nine pollution-ridden cities that the EPCA has been monitoring.
The eight cities include Ahmedabad (Gujarat), Bangalore (Karnataka), Chennai (Tamil Nadu), Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh), Kanpur and Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh) and Pune and Sholapur (Maharashtra).
These eight cities stand to gain from a recent economic stimulus package of the Union government.
The package, which was welcomed by the EPCA, will provide funds to cities -- under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) – for buying urban transport buses. This initiative, said Lal, “will greatly help cities move towards the much-needed transition”.
Agreed Sunita Narain, member, EPCA and director, CSE: “This is clearly an opportunity to reform and reinvent mobility, and cities need to grab this opportunity.”
But to get this money, the cities would have to meet some conditions set by the Union ministry of urban development.
These conditions call for the cities to:
Neglecting buses and creating congestion
Cities have their acts cut out. Narain points out that “till now, successive governments have neglected buses; so has the powerful automobile industry of the country. While in 1951, one out of every 10 vehicles sold was a bus, today this ratio is comical – only one out of every 100 is a bus. In 2007-08 only 38,655 buses were sold against 1.5 million cars”. This, says the EPCA, despite the fact that buses still account for about 50 per cent of all journeys performed by road.
All this has meant that private vehicles have taken over India’s roads. Congestion has peaked. The time it takes to drive has gone up, in spite of all the efforts of all city governments to go on a road and fly-over construction overdrive. And all this has meant more air pollution in our cities.
The agenda for action
In such a situation, drastic time-bound action for reform is the need of the hour. Towards this end, a seven-point plan has been put together for city-wide action on transport. According to this, cities should
The EPCA recognises the fact that the cost of bus operations poses a serious financial challenge to cities today. Governments, therefore, need to raise additional funds. In most of the cities, there exists a disparity between taxes imposed on private vehicles and buses – which in the case of buses is very high.
At today’s meeting, the Authority suggested broad approaches such as tax measures to help reduce the cost of the bus and the creation of a dedicated public transport fund to offset the revenue losses.
Delhi, for example, has made a beginning in the area of fiscal reform to deal with pollution and congestion: it has created an Air Ambience Fund, which has collected about Rs 10 crore, making use of the environment cess imposed on diesel. Bangalore and Chennai impose a ‘green tax’ on older vehicles, while Surat has a dedicated urban transport fund.
The meeting also discussed the issue of a parking policy. Said Bhure Lal, “Global experience bears out that parking management is one of the most powerful instruments to reduce travel by personal vehicles. But parking demand is gregarious, aggressive and insatiable. Therefore, we need to have a policy that works on the principle of parking restraint.”
To do this, the EPCA recommends designing and using parking structures innovatively to improve usage and integration of public transport; eliminating or minimizing free parking; using variable rates to control peak demand; and introduce parity in rates of surface and structured parking.
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