The city woke up to its worst fears in September 2011, when a report by World Health Organisation (WHO) declared it the most polluted city in the country and the fourth most polluted in the world.
Even after nine months of getting this tag, the authorities concerned have failed to take strict action against the antique diesel auto-rickshaws, one of the major sources of air and noise pollution in the city. It is disastrous to note that some machines date back to more than 20 years, while the limit set by the district transport office is maximum 15 years.
It is even shocking to note that lawmakers of the city are the front-runners in breaking the norms set by the Punjab Pollution Control Board and the district transport office.
A diesel auto-rickshaw owner, on the condition of anonymity, revealed, "I pay Rs 10 daily to the police in my area. I don't have any other employment option to run my family. I have to pay this bribe daily."
Sources also reveal that the auto-rickshaws in the city are privately owned by policemen in various parts of the city, who have hired drivers to run them. "I do not own this rickshaw. I get a monthly salary of Rs 5,000," said an auto-rickshaw driver, adding, "All I can tell is that the owner is in the city police."
Tarlochan Singh, assistant district transport officer, on being asked about the steps taken to curb the auto menace, said, "We have stopped the new registration for diesel autos. We are encouraging registrations of LPG and CNG autos. However, at present, we have more than 14,000 registered diesel autos and 800 CNG autos," he said.
He added that the biggest problem was that Ludhiana had only two CNG filling stations and that too far away from the main city, which discourages a person to buy a CNG auto. "We have written to the government for 10 more CNG stations, which is the only way out for increasing eco-friendly autos in the city," he maintained.
Smoke released by autos multiplies 10 times when auto drivers mix diesel with kerosene to save money.
Commenting on it, he said, "We tested around 30 samples from different parts of the city around five months ago, but all the samples tested negative and no traces of kerosene were found."
On the illegal autos running fearlessly in the city, he said, "We confiscated around 400 illegal autos in 2011. I will not deny that more than 4,000 autos are still running illegally in the city. They are also flouting the pollution limits as 30 to 40 challans of the autos are cut daily for not having the pollution control certificate."
However, the irony of the matter is that a nominal fine of Rs 1,000 seems non-effective for the autos not having the pollution certificate.
Krunesh Garg, SEE, said, "An action plan was made in 2010 to bring down the level of air pollution. It is awful that the district transport office has failed to implement it fully even in 2012. Removing diesel auto-rickshaws is not in our jurisdiction. The DTO needs to take action in this regard."
Dr Satpal Verma, scientific officer, Punjab Pollution Control Board, said, "I agree that roadside sweeping and diesel autos are the major factors for air pollution, but construction of roads and flyovers going on at large scale in the city too are contributing to the pollution."
"Levels of nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide are under control in the city. However, the levels of respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) are above normal which is a cause of concern," he added.
Manpreet Singh Shatwal, district transport officer, pinning hopes on future said, "An action plan was made to reduce pollution in 2010 under which 30 city buses were launched. Within next week, 20 more buses will complete the fleet of 50 buses."
"In next few months, 120 buses will be fully operational under the city bus transport scheme. This will automatically force auto drivers find other mode of employment."
"Unfortunately, we cannot cancel licences of 15-year-old autos running on diesel at it violates the high court orders," he said.