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Air quality in Chandigarh worsens as number of vehicles go up

On average, every car in the city releases over 40 g of particulate matter per trip, much worse than Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Jaipur.

punjab Updated: Sep 13, 2018 11:46 IST
Rajanbir Singh and Tanbir Dhaliwal
Rajanbir Singh and Tanbir Dhaliwal
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Air quality,Chandigarh,Air quality in Chandigarh
This is what the morning rush hour looks like at the Sector 7-26 roundabout on Madhya Marg every day. Experts say frequent braking and idling at light points/roundabouts results in higher emission of pollutants.(HT Photo)

The air quality in Chandigarh is going from bad to worse largely due to its vehicular population. At 878 vehicles per 1000 people, it has the highest density of vehicles in the country.

Last year, the average Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM) in the city stood at 118 micrograms per cubic metre (mpcm), which is almost double the safe limit of 60 mpcm as per the ambient air quality standards of India, and five times the threshold of 20 mpcm set by the World Health Organisation.

RSPM is more harmful than suspended particulate matter because these particles are much smaller and penetrate deeper into the lungs making you more vulnerable to heart disease, chronic bronchitis, asthma, and lung cancer. A study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has concluded that high levels of RSPM can shorten a person’s lifespan.

Dr SK Jindal, former head of pulmonary department, PGIMER, says he has seen a 10% increase in the number of people suffering from asthma as compared to last year.

“The number of people suffering from respiratory disorders has increased manifold, and the main reason remains air pollution due to the uncontrolled increase in the number of vehicles. The vehicular emissions are very harmful and chronic exposure to them causes respiratory disorders.”

Worse than Delhi, Mumbai

In the last five decades, Chandigarh has seen its population increase nine-fold from 1051 persons per square metre in 1961 to 9,252 in 2011. This was accompanied by a corresponding increase in the number of vehicles, which contribute the most to the RSPM levels. Add to it vehicles from the neighbouring states and those of the floating population and you have a city bursting with vehicles.

‘The Urban Commute’, a report by Center for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, on 14 cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Pune, Jaipur, Lucknow, Kochi, Bhopal, Vijayawada, and Chandigarh, recently concluded that the city has the second highest per travel emissions.

On average, every car in the city releases over 40 g of particulate matter per trip, much worse than Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Jaipur. In contrast, public transport releases less than 10 grams.

Vivek Pandey, a scientist with the Chandigarh Pollution Control Committee, says, “The emission levels are rising every year as the number of vehicles on the roads are increasing with no change in the length of the roads. This has a very harmful impact on the quality of air.”

With the number of vehicles increasing every year and traffic jams becoming the new normal, the RSPM levels will rise further. The average wait time at the traffic lights has more than doubled from 30 seconds four years ago to around 65 seconds at busy junctions during the peak hours. Experts say frequent braking and idling at light points results in higher emission of pollutants. Autos and buses run on diesel compound the problem.

Public transport only for short trips

The study, which was released on August 24, found that at five kilometres, Chandigarh has the lowest average trip length on public transport of all the cities. Kolkata also roughly has the same figure, but its average trip length by car is also the same, while for Chandigarh it is over 10 kms. This means that people take public transport only for short trips in Chandigarh; for longer trips they still prefer cars or two-wheelers.

Chandigarh also has the second lowest share of public transport (around 15%) amongst all transport mediums, second only to Lucknow.

People in Chandigarh like personal vehicles more. Surprisingly, even though Chandigarh’s fixation with four-wheelers is well-known, about 50% of vehicles in the city are two-wheelers.

Chandigarh has the worst ratio between privately owned vehicles and public transport.

Almost 80% of all vehicles are privately owned. Cities like Mumbai have few privately owned vehicles and most people travel by community-owned means of transport like trains.

Highest vehicle growth

The average annual growth rate of vehicles in Chandigarh is 9.8% . In 2016, at over 42,000, Chandigarh had the highest numb,er of both cars and two-wheelers registered by the RLA.

The second highest on the list was Lucknow where this number stood at 5,000.

Chandigarh also has the highest per trip energy consumption. This means each time a Chandigarh citizen makes a trip on his or her vehicle, more energy is expelled than in any of the 14 cities.

The study warns that though Chandigarh ranks third on total emissions and guzzling due to low volumes of travel and lesser distances covered, it is almost at the bottom in the ranking for per trip emissions.

This is due to very high use and dependence on personal vehicles for all trips. Even the ownership of cars per 1,000 people is among the highest in the country.

Navdeep Asija, Punjab traffic adviser, says the administration must stop encouraging car owners by making new parking spaces for them.

“Promote autos that run on CNG. They occupy little space, and transport 80-100 people in a day besides taking care of the last mile connectivity.”

After Union home minister Rajnath Singh put brakes on the much-touted metro rail project for Chandigarh in July last year, The Chandigarh administration is planning to introduce monorail as an alternative model of mass transport in the city. This project must be expedited to decongest the city roads and clean up the air. As the study concluded, “A sustainable public transport is the only way out for Chandigarh.”

The air monitors

RSPM monitoring is being performed at five different locations in Chandigarh: Industrial Area, Phase 1; PEC, Sector 11; Sector 17; Institute of Microbial Technology (IMTECH), Sector 39, and the Kaimbwala village.

The highest RSPM levels are observed at Industrial Area followed by IMTECH. The lowest levels are found at PEC.

The air pollution levels also show monthly variations. “RSPM levels increase with decrease in temperature from October to January and start decreasing with the rise in temperature from February to April. It falls further during monsoons,” mentions the State Environment Report, 2016.

The RSPM levels in the city peak during the wheat and paddy harvesting seasons from April to June, and from October to November.

As the size of pollens also lies within the limit of RSPM (less than 10 microgram per cubic meter), these too contribute to the pollution levels in the city that has a large number of flowering shrubs and trees. The pollen concentration starts increasing in September, October and November, before declining in December.

First Published: Sep 13, 2018 11:46 IST