Former President A P J Abdul Kalam, has a dream to make Chennai an eco friendly city. He envisaged a Chennai, whose two and four wheelers used a combination of bio-fuel and solar panels, which eventually reduced the emission levels.
“Whenever I come to Madras, I have a dream. I dream of how Chennai and region around it should look like; An integrated transport planning, usage of bio-fuel and solar power and separate lanes for pedestrians and cycles, coupled with planting of large number of trees will definitely enable Chennai to become a carbon neutral by 2030," he had said on World Environment Day function in the city.
Chennai the fourth largest city in India covers an area of 1,189 sq km and has a population of 4.6 million. With 24,682 people living in per square kilometer, Chennai is also one of the most densely populated cities in the world.
Naturally, the environmental issues of this southern metropolitan city are glaring. The citizens of Chennai are forced to live in the conditions far below the standards prescribed by the world body, particularly in terms of air and noise pollution.
This is because of the exhaust and noise from the increasing number of vehicles that is causing physical harm to the citizens, besides choking roads and wasting fuel.
Chennai has seen a remarkable spurt in the number of motor vehicles over the years. According to the transport department the number of registered vehicles in and around Chennai is about 33, 00,000. This is in sharp contrast to April 1, 1998 figures, when the number of registered vehicles was only 9, 75,915.
Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has found that the ‘reparable suspended particulate matter’ (RSPM), is rapidly increasing in residential and commercial areas of the city.
In contrast to World Health Organization’s prescribed limit of 60 micrograms of RSPM per cubic meter, some parts of Chennai city is witnessing about 121 microgram of RSPM per cubic meter due to addition of different kinds of vehicles on the city roads.
This is true about noise pollution as well. The Pollution Control Board estimates that noise levels in Chennai is 129 decibels that is far more than the permissible limit of 85 decibels fixed by the World body.
Long exposure to vehicular exhausts and horn sounds experienced during travel on road is taking heavy toll on public health. Waiting on traffic signals or in traffic jam is a commuter’s nightmare. Large numbers of people are suffering from respiratory and other diseases due to this man made problem.
Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board had initiated a drive against air and noise pollution. It’s planting trees with the help of City Corporation to control the air pollution level. The metropolitan transport corporation has issued orders to refrain from air-horns and stringent action is being taken to control noise pollution.
On its parts, the state government is also trying to address the issue through better public transport systems, increasing the number of city buses and constructing the metro-rail, but these measures seems to be an exercise in fire fighting, rather than addressing the issue on a long term basis.
What appears at the planning level is little inclination to check the growth of motor vehicles on the city roads. The city planners are seeking solutions in constructing over bridges, metro rail, concentrating on traffic regulations but there is no sign to check the growth of private vehicles, the main cause of the problem.
Imagine when these 33 lakh vehicles of Chennai may multiply to one crore in less than two decades, how the city planners would handle this vehicular tsunami each day.
The attitude, “when it comes, we will see”, is in no way going to solve the problem, rather make it really unmanageable.
These days the global trend is; cities are combining good public transport system with direct restraints on motor vehicles to decongest the roads, reduce air and noise pollution. In Chennai something like this too has to be done to make a long term impact on the city’s traffic.
Further, the uncontrolled and free parking space is encouraging uncontrolled growth of vehicles. In order to check this, a parking policy needs to be designed to reduce the car usage.
If that happens then it’s natural that the air and noise pollution would automatically get reduced and so will be the traffic woes.
A sustained media campaign, with the non-governmental organizations chipping its efforts to create awareness on more dependence on public transport and less use of private vehicle could alone solve the problem of Chennai traffic in the long run and help in making it a dream city.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org