Thursday, August 6, 2009


Kolkata phases out 60,000 of its old vehicles...

The recent government decision to scrap aging vehicles from Kolkata roads is a welcome one. According to government records, more than 60,000 vehicles, including three-wheeled auto rickshaws, buses, taxis and trucks, will be phased out, to ease the city’s chronic air pollution. In fact, the problem of traffic congestion and vehicular pollution is just not confined to Kolkata, but across all major metros of the country. A recent study (released on April 19, 2009) reveals that Delhi alone reported a 21.3 per cent increase in lung diseases, more than 20 per cent increase in asthma attacks and 25 per cent rise in the number of heart patients along with a very high incidence of respiratory diseases and all this due to prevailing air pollution in the capital.

Thanks to easy credit and economic growth, the automobile sector as a whole has experienced an explosive growth, particularly in the cities, which leads to severe vehicle congestion. In their book, India's Energy Politics, Ligia Noronha and Anant Sudarshan stated that between 1971 and 2004, there was a nearly nine-fold increase in road length and a nearly staggering 40-fold increase in vehicle population, leading to severe congestion in most cities!! Moreover, studies prove that a car caught in congestion emits nearly 25 per cent more pollutants. A 1997 study by the Petroleum Conservation Research Association showed that idle vehicles in the Delhi wasted 422,744 litres of fuel every day!! Moreover the per capita contribution to pollution by personal cars or even taxis for that matter, are considerably higher compared to mass transport, as they (along with two-wheelers) take up nearly 90 per cent of the road space and carry fewer people. This scenario worsens when it comes to aging vehicles.

Few developed countries follow annual and periodic check-up system. For example, residents of New South Wales are required to obtain an e-Safety Check prior to registration renewal every 5 years. Likewise in Canada, a safety inspection is required every two years. Similar system is followed in the US and the EU as well. This makes sure that owners know about their vehicle pollution level and can get their car sold/exchange at most economical period of time. On the hindsight, this ‘Kolkata-model’ of scrapping old vehicles seems a good move, but then it remains inconclusive. There is no denial of the fact that many livelihoods in the state (and across the country) depend on these vehicles, as they are used as commercial vehicles. Once these vehicles are removed abruptly from the road, they will be left with no option. Furthermore, when the directive has come from the government, these old vehicles will only fetch scrap value, leaving no money for investing a new vehicle, particularly with respect to small time taxis, three wheeler owners or bus owners!!

In order to make this move more acceptable (and attract voluntary representation too!) the state government should work out plans to provide some kind of support to the ones at the receiving end. They could introduce provisions like loan discounts, scrap-value, monetary compensation besides other measures and supports. Not just that, going forward, government needs to necessarily plan out clear cut and stringent framework with respect to emission norms and antipollution measures, coupled with wider road infrastructure. Only then the step towards phasing out would become conclusive.


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