Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Delhi Breathless; Pune Be Careful!

“There's so much pollution in the air now that if it weren't for our lungs there'd be no place to put it all”... Robert Orben.

Robert Orben is best known as an American professional comedy writer, though he also worked as a speechwriter for Gerald R. Ford and as a magician. But his above words one can’t take as comedy as even though it has been spoken in light vain but a bitter fact! In the earthquake of Demonetization one thing happened as the Delhi pollution issue took back seat on media because in this country currency is dearer than anything even lives of human beings! As just before announcement of demonetization everyone was talking about Delhi's scene & how even to walk on streets is becoming impossible over there & as usual the blame game was at peak! Delhi State Govt blaming Central Govt & neighboring States for the situation of air quality! Central Govt firing back that it’s local govt’s jurisdiction & finally Supreme Court itself taking cognizance of the situation & summoned both State as well Central Govt to do a fire fighting job as its common man's life which is at stake! So what has suddenly happened in Delhi, let’s have a look at it & then we can think of what’s our dear Pune’s future on these lines.

In every atmosphere there is a scale on which quality of air is measured & it’s obvious as it’s this air which we breathe & if the air contains hazardous particles which are categorized as fine & very fine, then needless to say outcome isn’t good for our health. And the very same particles apart from pulmonary diseases can be very much harmful to our eyes as well ears & skin too! So in Delhi’s air these particle have been found more, much more than permissible in respect to human tolerance & that caused havoc all around the city. The illness of all sorts increased to such a level that entire city came to stand still; schools needed to declare holidays & except essential services majority trade also got shut-off. Certainly not a sign of pride for capitol of a country which is aiming to become a world power! But then Delhi isn’t first such capitol to suffer on account of air pollution, cities like London & Beijing is to name a few which also has gone through same problem. The only difference is those cities learnt their lessons & recovered with immediate as well long term measures of curbing the pollution & emerged as clean cities whereas Delhi has ignored this aspect over a period & even now doesn’t seems to have any concrete plan to overcome pollution! Let’s see what has caused this sudden rise of particle in air of Delhi; as per Delhi State Govt the neighboring State i.e. Haryana, Punjab farmers burnt the dry leftover after harvesting & the northern winds carried all that smoke in Delhi is one of main reasons. I am no expert in Metrology or Weather science but this can’t be main reason, as this must be every years routine with the farmers, so how can suddenly this year it got so aggravated making entire Delhi polluted, is the question I will ask. The main reason is millions of vehicles exhausts & bad traffic management along with thousands of Industries throwing smoke in environment. At the same time reduced tree cover, polluted water bodies including river Jamuna & buildings all over, causing combine effect of pollution! One more aspect is Delhi’s geography i.e. plain terrain causes smog/smoke gets accumulated over the city for a longer time. In addition to all these, the infamous Delhi’s fog in winters surrounds the bad air like blanket to entire city worsening the situation! Delhi Govt is trying to fight this out will all efforts right from odd even number plates vehicles to no vehicles on some road but problem lies somewhere else!

Let’s leave Delhi to better hands & see what our Smart Pune scene is as with nearly 9 million vehicles on Delhi roads where-as Pune is already touching 4 million  vehicles, so we are not far behind. On this background will share an interesting incidence, just few days back was having meeting with my environment activist friend Ranjit Gadgil who is keen of improving city environment through his NGO, “Parisar” at my favorite place Vaishali over a cup of tea. Parisar has been pivotal especially on road safety, traffic management & improving public transport of the city & the members are continuously keeping the civic administration on its toes regarding above aspects. They have even filed cases with Green tribunal against projects like road through river bed as well a road from bal-bharti hill, saying these roads will damage bio-diversity of city! In both above case they have got stay on the said road projects making PMC to take step back even when the work has been started! So when I introduced Ranjit to my Vashali group members their first reaction was Parisar & people like Ranjit are speed breakers to city’s development & why are they not thinking about the common citizens who has to face traffic jams every day? Rather it’s because of cases filed by Parisar traffic scene is deteriorating in the city as PMC can’t develop new roads; also what’s harm in building roads through river bed as where is river left in the city, so why not use the river bed for roads easing out traffic? These are just few of the angry questions thrown at Ranjit.

I don’t blame my friends & Ranjit has faced many such questions but do mind, my friends represents common citizen of Pune & their attitude shows future of Pune is as dark rather more than that of Delhi! Even while the survey which has been conducted for Smart City contest most citizens were concerned about traffic & undoubtedly that’s most dear to heart subject of Pune. Reason is simple, this city lacks public transport & every one living here right from MD of any IT Company to his school going kid depends of private transport & result is every house with family of four has at-least one four wheeler & two to three two wheelers! And outcome is Pune with PCMC jointly has nearly 5 million private vehicles of which most are on roads at peak hours of traffic & that makes Pune number one contestant for pollution affected city after Delhi. All we think about how our traffic will be better but there lays the crux as till we think about just vehicles & plan the city around them we will be never able to make a pollution free city. The efforts should be targeted for reducing the private vehicle as that’s the key to stream line the traffic as whatever fly-overs or new roads we will make or widen the existing roads, that won’t curtail the new vehicles entry in city or use of existing vehicles, this we must understand! Those people who think widening roads or using river road will solve traffic problems are as equal ignorant like a smoker instead quitting smoking, asking to enlarge his respiratory passage! Going ahead I will put it in this way asking for making a road from river bed is like increasing respirator passage by curtailing lungs size & yet continue smoking, such fools we are! As rivers are our best hope for maintaining bio-diversity in the heart of the city & we are reducing them for our vehicles instead using them for plantation & water bodies! And it’s the biodiversity in form of green cover which will protect us from exhausts of vehicles!

Need is strengthen the public transport in such way that it will fulfill needs of every citizens commuting in & around the city. But then this aspect nobody cares not even citizens as here millions can come on road for caste & reservations but no one protest even individually leave apart in numbers for better public transport! All we discuss is about Metro which is just one part of public transport! Though now it’s been a decade we are just debating upon Metro, even about name of it can be ego issue here, such is our poor understanding regarding the grave threat of pollution we face ahead! If we don’t want a future like Delhi then it’s high time to work on both fronts to fight pollution i.e. short term & long term solutions. Widening existing roads, traffic management, more signals, building fly-overs are short term solutions. At the same time more roads & more vehicles means more signals & more traffic police, that too is equally required or else we all know what happens at unmanned signals! Pollutions’ another reason is fire crackers that too the modern one which goes high up in air & blows with bang, spreading hazardous particles in surrounding. Putting restriction on burning fire crackers won’t work, but ban sale itself of any fire crackers in the city as we already have enough fronts creating pollution. In first place why we need fire crackers & what we are going to celebrate by polluting the environment, ask this question to every citizen.

Long term solution is get enough numbers of busses on roads & make as many new routes we can. As less private vehicles means less exhausts from fuel burning. Try to bring more & more vehicles under use of green fuel like electric energy or CNG fuel. For that we will need to have battery charging stations & enough CNG pumps all across the city. Most important factor is increase green cover in the city as much we can. Conserve green belts, water bodies & bio-diversity parks as these are our lungs & last hope against polluted future. Think of moving every industry small or large outside of city from right now! In the city planning itself we have failed as the growth of the city is haphazard i.e. no clear division between business district & residential areas. All we know is paint the map yellow i.e. buildable & build any structure over there. I am not blaming our city planners nor the builders, it’s just that we all are so short sighted  that un-till someone doesn’t choke our throat we just doesn’t acknowledge that we need air to breathe! Such is our attitude to city planning so at-least in long term lets wake up & see that we plan a city where people don’t have to start their bike every now & then for their daily needs as that’s one sure way of curtailing pollution. And then when some officer tries to reduce drive ways & increase walk ways /cycle ways then all our party leaders come together along with so called aware citizens & make him scrap his ideas! Again I can’t blame these people also as they are more concerned about their vehicles & traffic, who cares for walkers or cyclists here! I agree in one night we can’t wipe out all the vehicles & ask people to start walking or cycling but some where the direction should be towards that target which unfortunately is not happening! What we need is to strike a balance between development & environment.

Lastly when I visited my family doctor Uday Gokhle for my routine checkup, at reception desk of his clinic he has put up a chart of comparison between Delhi pollution levels & Pune’s; you need not have to be Nostradamus to read our future as one look at that chart & the patients in his waiting room is enough as maximum of them are already suffering from air pollution borne diseases! Wish all are aware like Dr Gokhle as today its Delhi which has got choked, are we waiting for the air around us gets so polluted that it will chock us permanently! I know we Punekars consider our-self as wisest in the country, so let’s remind ourselves that wisdom is in acting wisely & not in uttering mere words of wisdom copied from Goggle!

Sanjay Deshpande 

Sanjeevani Dev.


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