First, clean the air

Sum­mon po­lit­i­cal will to meet clean air stan­dards, en­force strin­gent emis­sion norms and pro­mote pub­lic trans­port


JUST AS the Bharatiya Janata Party was get­ting ready to form the new govern­ment, In­dia hit an all time low on the who list of pol­luted cities. Its re­port, re­leased in May, noted that 13 of the 20 worst pol­luted cities across the world are in In­dia. Air pol­lu­tion has also emerged as the fifth largest killer in the coun­try. Though shock­ing, the find­ings do not come as a sur­prise.

In­dian cities are burst­ing at the seams with cars, two-wheel­ers and a large num­ber of diesel-pow­ered ve­hi­cles that belch toxic fumes.At the same time, the share of pub­lic trans­port, walk­ing and cy­cling is dras­ti­cally de­clin­ing. Wors­en­ing air pol­lu­tion has also ex­acted a sig­nif­i­cant toll on the coun­try’s econ­omy. A re­cent es­ti­mate by the World Bank shows that the health cost of par­tic­u­late mat­ter pol­lu­tion (par­tic­u­late mat­ter less than 10 mi­crons, or PM10, can pen­e­trate deep into the lungs) ac­counts for 3 per cent of the coun­try’s gdp. Clearly, the new govern­ment faces a daunt­ing task of curb­ing air pol­lu­tion. It will be able to turn the tide only with hard de­ci­sions and de­ter­mi­na­tion. Here are a few words of ad­vice:

1. Im­ple­ment na­tional clean air ac­tion plan to en­sure that all cities meet clean air stan­dards by 2020-21.Strengthen air qual­ity mon­i­tor­ing sys­tems in all states and is­sue daily air qual­ity alerts with health ad­vi­sory for people to take pre­cau­tion.

2. In­tro­duce strin­gent emis­sion stan­dards. To be­gin with, en­force Bharat Stage

Par­tic­u­late mat­ter pol­lu­tion ex­acts a

health cost of 3% of In­dia’s GDP

(BS) IV emis­sion stan­dards across the coun­try. Cars should meet BS V stan­dards by 2016 and the coun­try should leapfrog to BS VI by 2020-21.Only BS VI norms can ef­fec­tively curb diesel emis­sions, which who clas­si­fies as class one car­cino­gen for its strong as­so­ci­a­tion with lung cancer. Re­strict the num­ber of diesel cars and suvs us­ing fis­cal mea­sures like additional ex­cise duty. In­dia can­not af­ford to mo­torise based on tech­nolo­gies that are nine to 14 years be­hind those used in Europe.

3.Im­ple­ment favourable taxation pol­icy for pro­mot­ing clean fu­els like cng. Only an ef­fec­tive dif­fer­en­tial be­tween cng and diesel prices can in­cen­tivise cng. En­cour­age ad­vanced clean ve­hi­cle tech­nolo­gies like elec­tric ve­hi­cles with fis­cal in­cen­tives.

4.In­crease Cen­tral fund­ing sub­stan­tially to scale up af­ford­able modes of pub­lic trans­port sys­tem in cities. Use re­form-based fund­ing to in­te­grate these sys­tems and to in­stall safe and well-de­signed walk­ing and cy­cling in­fra­struc­ture and para­tran­sit sys­tems.At least 80 per cent of daily travel trips in cities must be met by pub­lic trans­port by 2020-21.Re­form Cen­tral taxes and state road taxes to elim­i­nate bur­den on pub­lic trans­port and re­cover the rev­enue loss by im­pos­ing higher taxes on cars. Cre­ate a ded­i­cated ur­ban trans­port fund. Pro­mote ur­ban de­sign that al­lows people to live closer to jobs, ed­u­ca­tion, re­cre­ation and other ser­vices.

5.Re­strict use of per­sonal ve­hi­cles. City au­thor­i­ties must elim­i­nate free park­ing, or­gan­ise and limit park­ing and charge park­ing fees to re­cover the cost of valu­able pub­lic land and en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact.

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