Bring back cycles on Kolkata roads: Ruskin Bond among others appeal to Mamata

A recent study found that Kolkata traffic police who have implemented the cycling ban on 64 major thoroughfares are themselves most vulnerable to air pollution.
The open letter to chief minister Mamata Banerjee highlighted that cycles are not only a zero-emission transportation but also enables livelihoods and reduces congestion in the city. (SwitchOn Foundation)
The open letter to chief minister Mamata Banerjee highlighted that cycles are not only a zero-emission transportation but also enables livelihoods and reduces congestion in the city. (SwitchOn Foundation)
Published on Aug 12, 2021 10:07 PM IST
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Byhindustantimes.com | Written by Avik Roy, Kolkata

Several prominent personalities, including a Trinamool Congress parliamentarian and authors, made an appeal to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to lift the ban on cycling from 64 arterial roads in Kolkata.

Terming the West Bengal government's ban unjustified, SwitchON Foundation, a not-for-profit group, that launched a campaign #BringBackCycles, said in an open letter to chief minister Mamata Banerjee that cycles are not only zero-emission transportation but also enables livelihoods and reduces congestion in the city.

The West Bengal government in consultation with Kolkata Police had in 2014 banned cycling on 64 major thoroughfares of the capital city Kolkata, including Camac Street, Shakespeare Sarani, Mahatma Gandhi Road, citing safety hazards and pace of vehicular movement on arterial roads.

The letter, signed by eminent personalities such photojournalist Raghu Rai, actor-film director Aparna Sen, archer Rahul Banerjee Archer, Trinamool MP Saugata Roy, iconic singer Usha Uthup, filmmaker Anupam Roy, economist Jean Dreze, oncologist Dr Suman Mallick, actor Anindya Chatterjee, sportsperson Dola Banerjee, journalist and human rights activist Sumanta Banerjee, pointed that the traffic cops of Kolkata Police enforcing the ban are themselves highly susceptible to respiratory ailments due to air pollution, which further increases chances of morbidity from the Covid-19.

Vinay Jaju, the founder of SwitchON Foundation, which also started the Bengal Clean Air Network, said, "Ironically, those who have implemented the cycling ban, are themselves most vulnerable to air pollution as per a study."

The study, titled 'Evaluation of the impact of ambient air pollution on respiratory health of traffic police in Kolkata', by researchers from Sister Nibedita Government General Degree College for Girls, Kolkata and the University of Kalyani, found high levels of particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) behind reduced lung function, especially among police personnel in north Kolkata followed by south and central zones.

A total of 228 police personnel participated in the study of which 128 undertook pulmonary lung function tests. Researchers found that traffic constables were at a higher risk group, likely to develop respiratory dysfunctions. PM 2.5 and PM 10 were found to be associated with decreasing respiratory and cardiovascular health of traffic police, leading to the risk of death. The survey also showed many traffic cops with restrictions of lung expansion, obstruction, and narrowing airways.

“From the study, we found PM 2.5 and PM 10 are key polluting agents in Kolkata. Although ambient air quality varies across locations and with seasons, traffic cops working were found to be seriously vulnerable due to long term exposure,” said Dr Subhashis Sahu, associate professor and the head of the department of physiology at the University of Kalyani, who also co-authored the study.

The letter also found support from legendary author Ruskin Bond and novelist Amitav Ghosh, who is also known for his literary works focussing on climate change and human migration, as well as actor Dia Mirza, cricketer Varun Aaron, Indian documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, senior advocate Justice Anjana Prakash, Mahatma Gandhi's great-grandson Tushar Gandhi, and activist Aruna Roy.

“Cycles are making a comeback in cities across the world. They don’t pollute the atmosphere. They don’t cause traffic jams. We need them in Kolkata and every other town and city," Ruskin Bond said.

Dr Sahu explained that traffic police personnel working especially in central Kolkata frequently complain of poor respiratory health. “The longer exposure to a polluted environment causes more impairment of pulmonary function parameters,” he said, adding that for improvement of air quality, less polluting transportation such as cycles was key.

Kolkata has been grappling with severe air pollution and ranks 25th among the 1,000 most-polluted cities globally, as per a 2019 report by the World Health Organization.

Vinay said his organisation has appealed to the commissioner of Kolkata Police to lift the ban and help implement a cycle safe infrastructure for Kolkata. “We have already addressed the issues inhibiting them from having a cycle track in and around the city. This is why we consulted a wide range of mobility experts from across the country who were in favour of keeping cycling at the centre of the mobility planning for sustainable development in cities,” he said.

Trinamool Congress MP and a close aide of Mamata Banerjee, Saugata Roy, said, “I am all for cycles. I want cycles back on the roads of Kolkata. This would reduce pollution and save fuel. All over Europe, cycles are a new rage. Let cycles come back. Our party MPs went by cycle to Parliament on the first day of the Monsoon session.”

Echoing him, Padma Shri awardee singer Usha Uthup who even created a cycling song in her own unique style to support the campaign shared that it took a lockdown in the entire country to make people fall in love with cycles once again making them extremely popular.

“Today the youth are back on the roads cycling, not only for their health but also for the health of the city. Bicycles are the need of the hour across lanes and bylanes of the city under the Kolkata police’s jurisdiction. Zero restrictions and infrastructure support promoting cycling will help city residents to start commuting short distances using cycles, which will eventually pave the way for commuters to look at this as a recognised mode of transport. In the long run, bicycles will help us stay fit, ensure we have fun, and also breathe clean air by cutting down on vehicular pollution,” she said.

Former additional director of Central Pollution Control Board, Dipankar Saha said that the vehicular emissions in Kolkata are a significant contributor to deteriorating ambient air quality. "The city needs dedicated infrastructure to support cycling such as a bicycle corridor to ensure that citizens focus on non-polluting mobility that improves one's health and physical well being. No bicycle track should be constructed along vehicular lanes with busy traffic. As far as possible, bicycle lanes should be considered along with the greens, forest etc which will definitely increase health criteria," he added.

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