Media Briefing on urban mobility and climate change Kolkata, February 17, 2017

Kolkata, February 17, 2017

Kolkata: A smoggy future beckons?

Kolkata may lose its advantage of lower transport-related pollution load and carbon emissions if its current rate of motorisation is not controlled

  • Of all the major metro cities of India, Kolkata’s transport sector has the smallest pollution and carbon footprint. But the city is at serious risk of losing this advantage as it is now encouraging car-centric planning and infrastructure  

  • Kolkata has the highest share (among all metros) of public transport and walking: 89 per cent of the population uses these modes. It also has the most diverse system of public transport among all metro cities – bus, metro, tram, suburban rail and waterways. Its policymakers and planners should recognise and leverage this advantage  

  • In Kolkata, a car user has 6.5 times more carbon footprint than a two-wheeler rider and 10.6 times more than a bus user. With growing motorisation, this will get worse – in 2010-12, vehicle registration was in the range of 8-11 per cent; after 2012, this has shot up to 158 per cent 

  • About 45 per cent of the people killed in road accidents in 2015 in Kolkata were pedestrians – this is the highest figure among 53 mega cities 

  • Kolkata, like Delhi and other Indian metro cities, needs second generation action - curbing dieselisation, scaling up integrated public transport, practising car restraint and walking -- to meet clean air targets and also contribute to India’s commitment to lower carbon emissions intensity by 30-35 per cent by 2030. 

Indian cities, including Kolkata, face a dual challenge – that of meeting clean air benchmarks as well as reducing carbon intensity of their growth and motorisation. If they can do that, they will be able to contribute towards meeting the national INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 33 to 35 per cent by 2030 from the 2005 level.

CSE has therefore carried out a rapid diagnostic analysis to see where are key metro cities in terms of pollution and carbon footprint of motorisation. Transport sector is a crucial contributor to both toxic pollution as well as heat trapping carbon emissions that warm up the atmosphere with serious climate change consequences. Cities will have to reduce health risk and climate risk together. 

This analysis shows that while Kolkata has a much better baseline than several other big metro cities in terms of toxic and carbon emissions from the transport sector it is at a growing risk of losing its inherent advantage. There is no conscious policy to retain and build on the strength that Kolkata has to prevent pollution and fuel guzzling. The key metro cities considered for this analysis are Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Ahmedabad. 

Key highlight of the findings 

Kolkata faces the daunting challenge of meeting clean air targets
The objective of air quality monitoring and management is to meet clean air benchmark. According to the air quality index of the Central Pollution Control Board good air quality is 50 per cent below the standards. But to be able to achieve these cities need to set their goal posts to meet the standards within a given time frame. Kolkata will have to reduce its annual average pollution levels by 44 per cent to be able to meet the clean air standards. The national annual ambient air quality standard is 60 microgramme per cum. Ahmedabad will have to reduce by 30 per cent; Bangaluru by 54 per cent;   Chennai has to sustain the current level and further lower to the WHO guidelines of; Delhi by 72 per cent; Hyderabad by 36 per cent; and Mumbai by 33 per cent. These cities will have to set time bound reduction targets to meet the clean air standards. 

Worrying air pollution trends 
Direct comparison of the cities is not possible as they are widely distributed across diverse ecosystems and climatic zones – warm and humid climate, composite indo-Gangetic climate, moderate, hot and dry North and South. Local weather patterns and climate do influence overall ambient concentration in different regions of the country. For instance, the land locked northern region with composite climate show higher trapping of pollution compared to the coastal areas that have the advantage of local sea breeze. 

The climatic zone-wise analysis shows that Mumbai, Chennai and to some extent Kolkata have lower levels compared to cities in composite and dry climates like Delhi. But except Chennai the annual average in Mumbai and Kolkata far exceed the average level for particulate matter in their climatic zone. But Kolkata has levels much higher than not only the standards but also the average for the climatic zone.  

Kolkata shows a declining trend from 2013 onwards. However, over the last seven years the average level of PM10 is more than two times the standards and NOx levels are 1.5 times the standards in Kolkata. The NO2 levels are high in Kolkata compared to other metro cities like Delhi.  But it is not easy to explain the reason as this could not be correlated with any specific action in the city. This can also be a reflection of changes in location of monitoring stations and the monitors that are being used for reporting data. This must not breed sense of complacency. The global burden of disease estimates show that most of the health effects occur at much lower levels of particulate pollution than observed in Kolkata. Exposure monitoring carried out by CSE during winter of 1015-16 had shown very high levels that have very serious health implications. 

It is however a matter of worry that there is no consistent PM2.5 data for Kolkata in the public domain. The online data is not easily publicly accessible. It may be noted that in Delhi the graded response action plan has come into force that requires government to take action according to daily pollution levels. 

High health risk 
According to the 2008, Comprehensive Mobility Plan of Kolkata, around 70 per cent of Kolkata’s 18 million inhabitants suffer from respiratory problems such as asthma and lung cancer, which are caused by pollution from the city’s chaotic transport sector. Studies carried out by Chittaranjan National Cancer Research Institute have found more than 60 per cent children in Kolkata with lung function impairments compared to 24 per cent in cleaner areas. Healthy individuals and non-smokers also show respiratory symptoms and lung function impairment. 

Kolkata needs to curb pollution from all sources including industry, trash burning, construction dust, road dust among others to meet clean air target. But vehicles need special attention. People’s exposure to vehicle exhaust is 3 to 4 times higher than the world average: Scientists now assess how different sources of pollution influence what we breathe depending on the proximity to pollution sources. The population-weighted intake fraction, or the grams of vehicle pollution inhaled per grams of vehicle pollution emitted in Kolkata, is 4 times higher than the world average – highest among all the key Indian metro cities studied by the scientists of University of California, Berkeley.  In terms of actual exposure, people will be more vulnerable to vehicular fumes. In densely populated cities, more than 50-60 per cent of the population lives or works near the roadside where levels are much higher.

Earlier an exposure monitoring carried out by CSE in Kolkata had shown that the actual exposure levels while travelling on the roads of Kolkata are several times higher than the ambient concentration that in turn is higher than the standards. 

Load of toxic pollution from vehicles are lower in Kolkata compared to other mega cities due to lower numbers and smaller trip length. This is an advantage of closely built compact urban form that Kolkata must not lose: The pollution load – both particulate and nitrogen oxide from vehicles in Delhi are the highest followed by Bengaluru. Both the cities have the highest number of vehicles registered. Vehicles in Kolkata emit 75 per cent less particulate matter than those in Delhi. Delhi has the highest share and the NOx load. Kolkata is almost half of that in Delhi and Bengaluru. 

Heat trapping global warming gases increasing due to motorisation 
National Climate Action Plan will require city level action. With more fuel guzzling emissions of heat trapping carbon dioxide that cause global warming will also increase. Studies show CO2 emissions will increase substantially from four wheelers in Kolkata by 2030 – as much as 3 times. (SIM AIR 2 -- In Kolkata cars and two wheelers together use up about 40% of the total transport energy consumption. If the dependence on personal vehicles continues to increase, transport oil consumption will increase thrice by 2030 with largest increase expected from four wheelers.  Total transport energy consumption in Kolkata is about 1.6 MTOE in 2008 which is about 60% of that of Delhi. (SIM Air study of 2009). For CO2, Kolkata emit 67 per cent less than Delhi.

Among all modes of transport car users have the highest carbon footprint in Kolkata 
A car user in Kolkata has 6.5 times higher per capita carbon emissions that is heat trapping than a two wheeler and 10.6 times higher than a bus user. Even a two wheeler user footprint is 1.6 times higher than a bus user. This is serious. Car users are contributing disproportionately higher carbon per capita than the public transport users. With growing automobile dependence this trend will worsen. Kolkata will be well advised to adopt transport policy that will help to lower both toxic pollution as well as global warminh gases and fuel guzzling. 

Kolkata must not lose the advantage of lower motorisation 
Compared to other Metro cities vehicular growth is comparatively lower in Kolkata. But of late the rate of increase is explosive ad can undo the advantage of the baseline. There was even a decline in motorisation during 2007 to 2010. But vehicular registration started to increase gradually and, subsequently, rapidly. Numbers increased by 8 per cent in 2011, 11 per cent in 2012 and 158 per cent in 2013. The reason for the sudden spurt is the immediately clear. This is evident from the data published by Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. This is not sustainable in land locked city. 

Compared to other cities usage of personal vehicles has remained much lower compared to other cities. In fact, number of cars for every 1000 population in Kolkata is 35 – this quite low as compared to other metro cities. For instance, Delhi has 148 cars per 1000 people, Bengaluru has 105.  But this is changing very fast. Since 2011, the number of two-wheelers and cars has increased rapidly. In fact, between 2007 and 2013 two-wheelers have increased by 28 per cent and cars by 25 per cent. In 2012-13, two-wheelers increased by 168 per cent and cars by 120 per cent. This is a higher growth rate than several other cities. 

Dieselised: A study carried out by researchers of University of Kolkata in 2013 shows that in contrast to the national trend, new diesel cars are 65 per cent of new car sales in Kolkata. Statistics have established the rising popularity of diesel cars. Diesel constitutes 45 per cent of total oil consumption by car users. About 99 per cent of commercial vehicles in Kolkata are diesel driven. This is a very serious concern as the WHO has classified diesel emissions as class 1 carcinogen for its strong link with lung cancer – putting it in the same class as tobacco smoking. Diesel also contributes hugely to tiny particles and rising NOx levels in the city. Diesel particulates are clas I carcinogen according to the WHO for strong link with lung cancer. 

What has helped Kolkata to keep automobile dependence lower than others?
Benefits of compact city design: While it is true that growing affluence increase automobile dependence, urban design and road design also help to keep personal vehicle usage lower. Among all the key metro cities Kolkata has one of the best urban form that is compact and close knit with high  street density. The compact urban form of Kolkata keeps trips length short and at human scale. As much as 31 per cent of trips are in the distance range of 2-5 km; 29 per cent in 6-10 km range. About 22 per cent of the trips fall in the range of 0-1 km that can be easily served by walk facility. Good walk and cycling infrastructure supported by public transport can transform the city and reduce pollution and energy guzzling. 

Impressive share of public transport and NMT: The share of people walking, cycling and using public transport in Kolkata is highest among the metro cities of the country which is 89 per cent – it is a global good practice that Kolkata needs to take pride in. This share is higher when compared with Delhi; 70 per cent, Chennai; 63 per cent, and Bengaluru; 66 per cent. Mobility Plan of Kolkata has set a target of 90 per cent share for public transport. With focussed policy Kolkata can meet this target easily.  This city has the most diverse forms of public transport systems including metro, bus, tram, suburban rail and water ways. No other metro city has such diverse systems. But neglect and policy disdain are undermining this strength.  The current declining trend will have to be reversed. 

The Census 2011 for Kolkata has given interesting insight into the way people travel in the city. An astounding 89 per cent walk and use public transport. Compared to other cities, Kolkata has the maximum share of walk trips -- 39 per cent. More than one-fourth of the working population commutes to work on foot. Nearly half of the working population commutes by bus, bicycle, train and IPT. The rest commute by private mode and other modes, the facilities for them lacks. Unfortunately, according to the road accidents data from MoRTH (Ministry of Road Transport and Highways), 422 people were killed in Kolkata in the year 2015. Out of this 45 per cent were pedestrians-highest among the 53 mega cities of the country.  

Congestion crisis: Cities are paying a very high price for congestion. Traffic jams lead to fuel wastage, more pollution and serious economic losses. Usual commuting time has increased significantly during peak hours. On many arterial roads, traffic volume has exceeded the designed capacity and the service level of the road. 

According to the comprehensive mobility plan for Kolkata, 72 per cent of Kolkata roads have travel speed less than 20 kmph. A study by Switch On has shown that cars cater to only 6 per cent of the passengers but occupy 29 per cent of road space while buses serve 76 per cent of the population and occupy only 32 per cent of road space. More studies in Kolkata have shown that delay on different corridors of Kolkata range from 20 minutes to about 60 minutes. Centre for Urban Economic Studies, University of Calcutta, has estimated that Rs. 74,077.66 is lost in only two peak hours on a few selected roads daily. The annual loss in monetary terms would be as high as Rs. 2.7 core. This is unacceptable. 

Learn from Delhi’s mistakes – more roads are not the answer: Even after putting 23 per cent of its geographical area under road network and building more than 70 flyovers, Delhi is the most polluted and gridlocked city today. Delhi is now forced to take pollution action measures like odd and even formula for personal vehicles so that at a time at least 50 per cent of the vehicles can be taken off the road. More steps are on cards – parking policy as a car restraint measures, fiscal disincentives, scaled-up public transport system, walking and cycling infrastructure, among others. These are the signs on the wall for other cities to know and understand.

Next generation action must gather momentum
Reinvent public transport: Public transport is Kolkata’s strength but ignored: Disproportionate focus on car-centric roads and flyovers is leading to neglect of buses, trams, walking and bicycles -- the unique strength of the city. This puts the city at risk of undermining its own strength. The City Mobility Plan for Kolkata has set the goal of achieving a modal share of 90 per cent by 2025. Total ridership of all modes are expected to increase by 72 per cent. It is projected that even in 2025, among all prominent public transport modes like metro, bus and ferry, -- buses will meet more than half of all demands. But is there is roadmap to achieve these targets? Buses that meet 54 per cent of the travel demand now is under enormous pressure, uUnless reinvented it can decline drastically. Public transport strategy must aim for better frequency, reliable service, and speed and comfort. Kolkata will have to reorganize its road space more equitably amongst all users and accord priority to public transport, walkers and users of non-motorised transport. 

Tram has already given Kolkata a sustainable road design that accords priority to public transport. Do not destroy this: It is regrettable that Kolkata is letting its tramway die. This system has already given a heads up to Kolkata in road design that gives the right of way to public transport to keep it out of congestion and attain speed. This is exactly the principle that other countries are trying to achieve through the bus rapid transit system and tram systems. But the sharp and progressive decline in Tramways due to lack of investments and modernisation, and unreliable service is taking away from sustainable designs of road space. Tram will have to be the part of vision and solution in Kolkata.  

Integrate all modes of public transport: Kolkata has an enormous advantage in its elaborate public transport infrastructure including, trams, suburban rail, bus system and also metro. An immediate multi-modal integration of all these systems can be the permanent solution to it congestion and pollution. 

Build pedestrian infrastructure: Design pedestrian guidelines for approval of road projects and enhancement of the existing ones. This change has started. Develop and implement pedestrian guidelines and carry out walkability and safety audits. 

Make cars pay the full cost of using road space and causing environmental damages: Globally, cities are desperate to free up road space from cars. They are making car parking prohibitive; adding high premium to car ownership; exacting dues for entering prime busy areas; only allowing a fraction of them on roads at a time; or just not allowing them in the city centre. They are also giving people more transport options other than cars. But Indian cities charge a pittance for road usage and for parking. CSE’s rapid assessment for instance shows that a car pays road tax in its lifetime what a bus pays every year. Also big cars are taxed lower than small cars. Cities must reverse this.  

Enforce parking controls, rationalize taxes on cars and make way for congestion charging. Cars cannot continue to enjoy direct and hidden subsidy and privileges on roads and pay the full cost of operations and for harming the environment and public health. Experience from around the world shows that parking area management and controls, parking pricing, high penalty for illegal parking, residential parking permits along with taxes top the list as the first generation car restraint measures worldwide. Cars are the biggest encroachers in Kolkata: 30-40 per cent of roads in Kolkata are taken up by parking; 50-70 per cent of footpaths reduced due to on-street parking. At the same time cars pay a pittance for parking. This acts like a hidden subsidy. Indian cities including Kolkata and Delhi have begun to prepare parking policy but this must include parking controls and pricing to dampen car usage. 

State government needs to frame a state level urban transport policy with adequate legal back up to guide action on sustainable transport. Kolkata still has the chance to plan its future growth differently and avoid the path of pollution, congestion and energy guzzling. Cities need to make maximum investment in redesigning their existing road space and travel pattern to provide the majority of the people affordable and efficient mode of public transport that can be an alternative to personal vehicles. 


For interviews and other media assistance, please contact Hemanth Subramanian,, 09836748585. 



Media Clippings
The Hindu | Feb 18, 2017
Kolkata emission levels to increase three times
India Today | Feb 18, 2017
Kolkata needs to cut pollution by 44%: CSE
Ei Samay