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.