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Pankaj Munjal

Pankaj Munjal is Chairman and Managing Director at Hero Cycles.

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World Car Free Day Brings Focus Back on Need For Alternative Modes Of Transport

With 13 of the 20 most polluted cities of the world belonging to India, according to World Health Organisation, we need to find a solution quickly, lest we should have a feeble young generation in the country.

Photo Credit : Photograph: Rajanish Kakade/AP,

We are choking hard and we are choking at a faster pace with each passing day. The toxic, or rather fatal, air quality in our cities is squeezing the life out us all day, everyday. Worse, the rising air pollution is also squeezing the life out our children and the young generation.

It is an established fact that vehicular pollution, particularly pollution caused by cars, is the major cause for deteriorating air quality. With a staggering 2.19 lakh cars being sold globally everyday, the air quality is not getting any better.

We have become a victim of our own choices and aspirations. Cars were introduced to the world to make travel faster and more comfortable. But soon we started to buy more cars than we actually required. We also started to bigger cars and aimed to buy even bigger ones, as and when we could afford them. Eventually, we fell prey to our own aspirations. Within a hundred of being introduced to the world, cars started to be seen as a curse with environment protection perspective and efforts were made to limit their use. Many formal or informal car free days started to be organized in various countries including Iceland, United Kingdom and France.

By 1995, the environment had started to be so ghastly damaged and its effects were so glaringly felt that a worldwide attempt was made when World Car Free Days Consortium was organized and a call was made to hold car free days globally in order to limit the dependence on cars and promote alternative modes of transport like cycling, walking and mass transit.

The global efforts had a bearing on India too which has been grappling with one of the highest levels of air pollution and the concomitant health risks and disease burden.

Environment Degradation and Resultant Toll On Health Of People In India 

The levels of ultra-fine particles of less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5s) are highest in India, according to World Health Organisation (WHO). Obviously, it is taking a heavy toll on the health of the people. 

The number of premature deaths in India stood at 11 lakh in 2015 and that the particulate matter PM2.5 levels had risen sharply, a recent study by an American Institute found.  There was about 50 percent increase in premature deaths in India between 1990 and 2015 because of the toxic air quality.

Another recent report by Greenpeace, which assessed the state of air quality in 168 cities India, found that none of the cities complies with air quality standards prescribed by WHO. It also says fossil fuels, particularly petrol and diesel, are the main reason for the deteriorating air quality across the country.

The un-breathable air quality is not only taking away lives but making it increasingly difficult to others who survive. A study conducted in the national capital Delhi by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and Kolkata-based Chittaranjan National Cancer Research Centre revealed that one out of every three children in Delhi had reduced lung function due to bad air quality. Given the scenario, the health of the people of the country is being increasingly compromised and the healthcare costs of the government are going up.

Initiatives By Government, Judiciary

How to make cars less damaging to the environment is being dealt with by the government as well as the judiciary. The government has made it mandatory for all vehicles in the country to comply with BS-VI standards by 2020 in the country. Vehicles currently meet BS-IV standards and India will skip BS-V norms and straightaway leapfrog to meet BS-VI standards. This is a welcome decision by the government.

Even the judiciary played its part in curbing vehicular pollution this year. The Honourable Supreme Court of India decided in March 2017 that vehicles conforming to BS-III standards would not be sold beyond 31st March 2017 in the country.

The government has gone one step further and floated a tender for 10,000 electric vehicles that will be used by various ministries in Delhi.

But all these efforts are geared towards making cars less damaging to the environment. Simultaneously, the government has to make efforts to popularize alternative modes of transport.

Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also stated recently that India will go “above and beyond” the Paris Climate Agreement commitments. How will he and the government machinery has whole be able to achieve such targets in the interest of the future generations?

Dire Need to Promote Mass Transit, Cycling, Walking 

With 13 of the 20 most polluted cities of the world belonging to India, according to World Health Organisation, we need to find a solution quickly, lest we should have a feeble young generation in the country. A medically weaker young population would cost the nation dearly since the working population would be more prone to illnesses. There is a dire need to adopt mass transit options in big cities which will take care of twin problems of environmental deterioration and road congestion as well.

Another imperative is to promote a culture of cycling. Sadly, the culture that existed in many Indian cities until the turn of the century is now dying. There have been enough suggestions by all stakeholders including the intelligentsia for a need to have cycle tracks. Now is the time the government must act on these suggestions. After all, how long will the stakeholders and intellectuals keep giving this suggestion? In a country like India where over-speeding and driving in the wrong lane are rampant, the government must implement traffic laws more strictly which will make cycling a safer proposition. People have to made aware that cycling not only solves the problem of pollution mitigation but also comes with a host of health benefits.

The cities should also be made walkable by constructing proper footpaths and by removing impediments for pedestrians on footpath.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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