“Don’t you feel ashamed that flights are being diverted and citizens are not safe even in their homes?” The Supreme Court came down heavily on the state governments for their inability to curb stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana as air quality levels in Delhi hit dangerous lows. “It is better not to be in Delhi,” the apex court had said on Friday, expressing despair over air pollution and traffic congestion. Delhi, it said, “has become like gas chamber.” 9,100 people died in the this ‘gas chamber’ last year in Delhi.
The AQI continues to worsen, breaching the 999 mark in several areas. After countless warnings, social media campaigns and heartfelt appeals, the Delhi government has failed the people, who wake up now to a thick blanket of smog. Crackers burned during the Diwali festivities only added to their woes.
The green revolution was an unqualified success, giving India much-needed food security. It led to vast increases in wheat and rice production but also ended up polluting air and depleting groundwater. More than two million farmers burn 23 million tonnes of crop residue on some 80,000 square kilometres of farmland in Punjab and Haryana every winter. The stubble smoke is a lethal cocktail of particulate matter, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide.
Bengaluru headed there too?
We’re not too far away. According to World Health Organisation data, Bengaluru’s AQI shows PM levels at 118, putting pollution at 63, very high. Delhi, with 88.87 points, is ‘very high’ on the scale, while Bengaluru, with 73.94 is inching closer to this inglorious benchmark. Delhi and Bengaluru are on par in terms of drinking water pollution and inaccessibility Bengaluru is ahead in terms of dissatisfaction with garbage disposal. (Detailed table shown).
Walk-ability and ride-ability
Sustainable urban planning is key and areas that are pedestrian friendly and cycle-friendly are crucial. Is Bengaluru pedestrian-friendly or a car-lover’s paradise? Neither. It’s a nightmare for everyone. Reports say the average citizen spends more than 240 hours stuck in jams every year. In 2005, traffic moved at the speed of 35 km (22 miles) an hour, In 2017, it is an agonising five-km an hour.
Love affair with diesel
Breathing in some parts of Bengaluru is the equivalent of smoking 40 cigarettes a day. Car-friendly policies have created a ‘carbon shadow’.
The promotion of diesel vehicles as green transport has been a disaster. Yes, diesel engines use fuel more efficiently, to reduce carbon monoxide emissions. However the extra soot that these engines produce, more than offset the fuel efficiency! Diesel cars now make up two-thirds of the fleet. They emit higher levels of harmful air pollutants causing thousands of premature deaths each year. Natural gas is a very promising fuel for lower vehicular pollution.
Transport revolution: The Tallinn Experiment
Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, introduced free public transport at the beginning of 2013. The city of Hasselt in Belgium had free transport for 16 years. It’s sustainable. Delhi has started providing free public transport for women. Public transport is an important component of the solution to sustainable mobility, while reducing traffic congestion and the environmental impact of transportation. From a customer perspective, a mobility choice is only a choice if it is fast, comfortable and reliable.
Yet, for cities facing problems like congestion, air pollution and so on, the most effective solution is the humble, eco-friendly bus.
Staying healthy in Bengaluru
The hardest part of living in Bengaluru is staying healthy. Garbage, along with rain, leads to the outbreak of vector-borne diseases. Eating unhygienic food and drinking contaminated water can lead to typhoid and gastroentritis. People with allergies, especially children, become more susceptible to respiratory infections in the cold and wet weather conditions.
Bengaluru is already reeling under a host of health and sanitary concerns, including a garbage crisis, a dengue epidemic, influenza and most recently, an outbreak of avian flu.
K.R. market is just mud, garbage and rotten vegetables strewn everywhere.
Many people do not come to buy or sell vegetables here because of the garbage lying around and the unbearable stench.
Bengaluru generates over 3,000 tonnes of waste everyday from households and commercial establishments. Around 70 percent of this is organic. The balance is made up of inorganic and hazardous waste. Garbage collection is irregular and many are forced to dump their waste in storm water drains. This oft-seen practice naturally leads to flooding, particularly during the monsoon season.
Trash is Bengaluru’s plague. It contaminates our streets and feeds a vast and dangerous ecosystem of rats, mosquitoes, stray dogs, monkeys and pigs .Perhaps even more than the fitful electricity and insane traffic, the ubiquitous garbage collection shows the incompetence of governance and the dark side of rapid economic growth.
As Bengaluru’s population exploded with the IT boom, stresses in the waste system are close to breaking point. Now, with Bengaluru’s vast landfill in Mandur about to close permanently and the city is running out of abandoned quarries to divert a day’s load, the system may simply collapse.
This is a scarce resource. And what is available is contaminated. More than 300 of our lakes have disappeared. The ones that remain are on fire. The problem is getting out of hand and eventually, it will swallow us whole.
—Dr N Prabhudev is a former VC of Bangalore university...