Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXV No. 20, February 1-15, 2016
Having sufficiently exploited the soil on which we live and depleted the water available, it would appear that air is the next scarce commodity. Early last year, some of the European nations classified a job in India as a hardship posting, chiefly based on air pollution standards.
New Delhi was clearly the worst offender and remains so. The Government there was forced to take the unusual step of enforcing a rule wherein cars with odd-numbered registration would be taken out on certain days with those with even-numbered ones being driven on other days. The Odd-Even rule as it was called led to much derision and the brief period during which it was tested showed that there was no appreciable improvement in air quality. This, of course, may be because the time of experimentation was too short. But it did bring home a sobering reality – air pollution is a menace. The question is, how far is Chennai behind and what can it do to improve its air quality?
There is bad news for us. The National Air Quality Index (NAQI), launched in April last year, has shown that Chennai tops the list in air pollution. It is just that the nature of contamination is different. Delhi made it to the news as the most polluted city in the world owing to the particulate content in its air, but Chennai, along with Kanpur and Varanasi, scores on toxic content owing to gases such as nitrogen and sulphur dioxides. The NAQI measures air pollution in cities and raises an alert on days that are classified as severe, very poor or poor in terms of air quality. Last year, Chennai had the highest percentage of severe days – 17.7 and one third of all days fell under either the severe, very poor or poor classifications.
The chief reasons for these are construction dust and emissions from vehicles. Despite the slow-down in the real estate sector, there was considerable construction activity last year in the city. In addition, the metro rail work, that has been going on for over four years now and is likely to extend to another two, has also contributed to this. The latter is, of course, the price we need to pay for getting what is promised to be an effective public transport system that will cut the usage of cars which, along with two wheelers and autos, are the other major pollutants.
Chennai adds 700 cars every day to its roads. With the space remaining the same, the traffic density is only increasing thereby causing the slowing down of traffic. It is a well-known fact that vehicles that idle even while running the ignition release the maximum emissions. It therefore stands to reason that the more vehicles there are on the roads, the slower they become and the more they pollute.
An effective public transport system is the only answer to this problem. The Metro may result in this, but it needs to be supported by effective feeder services if it can hope for patronage from the vehicle users. Also it may need to expand its network to reach out to areas in the south of the city, which means more digging and construction. Are we ready for that? The creation of exclusive bus corridors may be a faster alternative. This too needs to be looked into.
Whatever be the answer, the present situation will just not do and it is to be hoped that those in power are studying the matter. At present, Beijing closes down schools and offices on days when air quality falls. We do not want a similar situation here do we, especially when we have enough off days as it is due to the rains?