Since the past five years, I have seen this city change a lot and get even more urbanised. With flyovers and vehicles altering its landscape, Dehradun has become the fifth most polluted city in India, accordingly to the report “Airpocalypse”, released by Greenpeace, an international environmental NGO. Conservation of foliage, covering of open sewers and drains, the revival of seasonal rivers, managing solid waste, refurbishing the public transport are some of the crucial challenges that are facing the Doon valley today. Frankly, nobody has any answers on how to address these challenges but, an innovative, inclusive and sustainable outlook can change the manner in which we are presently dealing with these issues.
Air pollution has become a major challenge for Dehradun today. Currently, the pollution levels in the city are competing with the levels of mega-urban hubs like Noida, Ghaziabad, Allahabad, Kanpur etc. Due to its unique geographical location, the emissions are often getting trapped in the valley and are unable to escape, which is leading to a scary figure during the data monitoring of pollution levels in the city. Additionally, the poor civic sense and lethargic implementation of rules on the ground by the administration is also resulting in the increased levels of pollution. Burning of waste in the open air is a clear example of how the government and citizens are collectively failing this city from achieving the objective of having a clean air to breathe, which is of primary importance right now.
According to me, amongst all this, the most significant miscreant has been the public transport system of the city. At an international level, the talks have begun for cleaner fuels and efficient engine technologies but the city of Dehradun is getting choked due to toxic emissions released by the age-old Vikrams (a traditional three wheeler drive, like an auto) and minibuses which forms a major chunk of the public transport in the city. These vehicles are equipped with inefficient engine technologies, as per Bharat Stage norms. Even a CNG-based public transport system has been a farsighted option in the city. Currently, BS-IV fitted vehicles are allowed to ply on the roads. Moreover, in Delhi, the government has decided to implement BS-VI from April 2018 (two years before the originally decided date of April 2020). In cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad, an extensive and proactive drive has been initiated by the government to replace the current public transport system with eco-friendly electric vehicles. These steps are supported by policy reforms at the government level too. For example, the subsidy to be provided to electric buses is in the range of Rs 75 lakh to Rs 1 crore, which is 60 percent of the cost. For taxis, the subsidy amount is Rs 1.24 lakh which is 10-15 percent of its cost.
For countless times, the citizens have displayed their anger against traffic and incessant chaos caused by public transport on the roads of the city through various social media channels, but the targeted and robust lobby arrangements by auto and minibus drivers have resulted in zero movements on the ground. In fact, the daily office going public remains the largest user of these vehicles in the city.
However, at a small scale, the government has decided to deploy electric rickshaws in the city with the view of providing last mile connectivity to the users. In simple words, these electric rickshaws are operated on small routes with a limited number of users, leaving the owners and drivers of these battery-operated vehicles unhappy and dissatisfied. Additionally, the conventional auto and bus drivers have resisted the deployment of these battery-operated rickshaws on a large scale.
The road ahead for the city to adopt a sustainable approach is not easy. Still a focused and developmental series of reforms can result in some tangible changes on the ground. Installation of the real-time air data monitoring system, introduction of electronic or CNG-based public transport system, adequate mechanical systems for controlling the flying of dust particles, ensuring strict implementation of the ban on burning of waste are some practical recommendations which can help in combating the growing air pollution crisis in the city.