Many aspects of our lives have been influenced by automobiles since their invention. Neither education, nor employment, nor business and any other social interaction can be done without driving or travelling in a vehicle nowadays.
Air, water and food are vital for our life. The first thing a body demands after birth is air. One breathes for the sake of being alive and if unable to breathe properly then the person is no more alive. It should be our endeavour to maintain clean air to ensure survival of self and of others.
Air pollution in India is a serious issue ranking higher than lifestyle diseases like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases, stroke etc. It should be noted here that 13 out of the world’s 20 most polluted cities, are in India. Most common cause of air pollution in Indian cities is automobile exhaust.
The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act was passed in 1981 but in spite of that even after almost 40 years India has been currently ranked 177 among 180 countries in the environmental performance index (EPI)-2018. That’s a very dismal record to say the least!
Though there are various other causes too of air pollution in India but we will confine ourselves to the air pollution caused by automobiles. Though India has only one per cent of the world’s motor vehicles share, these contribute almost 10 per cent of air pollution in India. India stands a close third after USA and China in being the most polluted country.
Most of the drivers are not much educated hence they cannot asses the grave situation of air pollution problem and therefore, they ignore the practice of blending of fuel which gives more toxic emissions.
The problem is not only the burning of fuel but adulteration of the fuel too which is an even bigger problem. These people prefer the easier way of making money by blending the fuel from lower priced fuels like kerosene and diesel. Usually, diesel is adulterated with kerosene and petrol with diesel. The blending of fuel may be as high as 20 to 30 per cent.
As the amount of adulteration increases, so is the amount of pollutants like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide, nitric oxide and other hydrocarbons in air.
The problem of fuel adulteration is common not only in India but in other South Asian countries as well. The monitoring of pollution of the vehicles is also cumbersome and costly as it is perceived by the drivers and the owners of the vehicle.
Another important problem with the increasing number of automobiles in India is the congestion on the roads, that is, the increased number of vehicles per kilometre throughout the country.
The length of roads is increasing in recent times but not in proportion to the number of vehicles. The road network has grown only by a third in the last decade while number of vehicles has risen three-folds resulting in increased road congestion. The total number of vehicles in the year 2017 stood at 252 million while it was as low as 3,06,000 units in the year 1951.
In 2011, road density in India was 142.7 kilometres per 100 square kilometres. Road density is the ratio of the length of the country’s total road network to the country’s land area. While National Highways constitute 1.8 per cent of Indian roads, they carry 40 per cent of the traffic. The majority of existing National Highways are two-lane roads (one lane in each direction).
The number of expressways and highways are limited hence the roads are congested and the traffic is slow particularly in big cities and in metros. Due to slow speed of traffic the amount of fuel consumption is more and so is the emission of pollutants.
It has been reported that if speed is within 20 to 40 kilometres per hour then pollutant emission is two times but if speed is on an average below 20 kilometres per hour then pollutant emission is four to eight times more in comparison when the speed is on an average at 60 kilometres per hour.
Greenhouse effect caused due to fuel emission is the major cause of climate change and the gradual warming of our planet.
This air pollution caused by automobile is resulting in significant respiratory health problems in our country. The air pollution is affecting the whole population but it is more marked in children and the elderly. Over a million Indians die prematurely every year due to air pollution. According to a report, half of the children in Delhi have abnormal or disturbed lung functions, according to Delhi Heart and Lung Institute.
Quality of air has improved visibly in Delhi after the introduction of CNG driven auto rickshaws and taxis.
The recent introduction of e-rickshaws is also contributing their share to maintain clean environment. Various steps are being taken by our government to phase off the cars which are older than 15 years and vehicles running on diesel which indeed is a promising step to improve the air quality in cities which will have far reaching effects in controlling the air pollution.
The negative effects of automobiles include an increase in the rates of accidental deaths, isolation from community or society, air pollution due to emission of green house gases, noise pollution, gradual warming of planet and decreased amount of physical activity leading to many health problems like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardio-vascular diseases etc.
In addition to stress of accident and death, stress of finances to repay the vehicle loan, maintenance of vehicle and day to day running cost of vehicle are common. If these costs are analysed then they are at times more than the cost of the vehicle itself.
Road travel seems to be the preferred travel choice in India with over 60 per cent of the population using personal or shared vehicles to commute. In comparison to the sources of mass transportation, personal automobile transportation has relatively high cost per passenger per kilometre.
No doubt, the long distance drive of the car is convenient specially if we are with children or are having some baggage, otherwise for the individual traveller with no or minimum baggage it is never cost effective. The physical fatigue and mental stress are taking a high toll on the health of drivers.
The introduction of mass transportation systems all over the country especially in the big cities will give far reaching effects because the mass transportation will not only reduce the fuel consumption and air pollution but it will be environment friendly as well especially means like the underground rail mass transportation. It will be one of the most suitable means for the clean environment and will be time saving especially in the big cities.
The public bus or rail transportation between two cities should be preferred over the private two wheelers and four wheelers for the short distance. The people should prefer to walk for the shorter distance and should use bicycles more frequently.
The practice of tricycle or the manual rickshaw is also a better physical option for transportation in the cities especially for shorter distances because it is not only clean for the environment but it also provides employment opportunities for the unskilled strata of our population.
(Dr Gaurav Sanjay is an orthopaedic and joint replacement surgeon based in Dehradun. Dr BKS Sanjay is an orthopaedic and spine surgeon, and the founding president of State Chapter of Indian Orthopaedic Association)
Thursday, 14 November 2019 | Dr Gaurav Sanjay /Dr BKS Sanjay
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