Over the last year, Rakesh Kumar, director, National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) has been part of two important studies focusing on air quality as well transport for the city. The studies recommended the need for synchronisation of traffic signals to improve vehicular movement, improvement in public transport systems, moving towards better fuel quality, support programmes for cleaner vehicles as well as public transport through a Clean Air Fund (CAF).
Most people surveyed said they were most concerned about air pollution.
Although they are not absolute levels, data does show rising levels of respiratory suspended particulate matter (RSPM) and nitrogen oxide. The levels are higher where air monitoring equipment is close to the roads. While RSPM is high due to construction activity, the main source of nitrogen oxide is vehicles.
Given the fast-rising number of vehicles on city roads, how can air pollution be curbed?
Improvement in technology alone cannot bring down nitrogen oxide levels. Vehicular congestion adds to the rise. For instance, a litre of fuel is ideally burned at 60 kmh. With congestion, this quantity is burned while travelling at 5 kmh. Hence, emissions are bound to rise. We need to transport more people in an environmentally friendly way.
Mumbai has been the leader in public transport. However, today, private vehicles occupy about 80% of the road space, resulting in less space for public transport. This is not conducive to lowering air pollutant levels. The only way to do it is strengthen bus services, develop easy access to stations, make bus fares cheaper and prioritise construction of the Metro.
Recently, you suggested the government levy a CAF of 50 paise on two-wheelers and Re 1 on four-wheelers per day.
Yes. Unless we look at what causes the problem, we cannot improve air quality.
The reason for the CAF was that some problems would get solved with individual action.