World’s 2nd most polluted city: Automobile pollution fuels Kolkata’s dubious record

Kolkata is the second most polluted city in the world, according to a recent report of HEI SoGA, second after the national capital Delhi. In the report, based on the quantity of PM2.5 and nitrogen dioxide in the air, it has been said that population congestion in these two cities has been the major contributing factor behind Indias two top cities figuring in this negative-quality list.

The only other Indian city to figure in the list is the country’s commercial capital of Mumbai, which ranks 14th among the 20 most polluted cities in the world.

However, environmental experts and activists are of the opinion that besides population there are other factors contributing to this high air pollution rate in Kolkata, the foremost of which is the automobile fuel emission, which contributes 60 per cent to the pollution.

Recently, the Kolkata Press Club conducted a workshop on “Air Quality Leadership” for media persons, which was attended by environment experts like Bose Institute professor Abhijit Chattopadhyay, environment scientist Dipanjali Majumdar and environment activist Vinay Jaju among others.

Both Majumdar and Jaju, while admitting that automobile fuel emission continues to be the most dominant factor in this high rate of air pollution in the city besides population congestion, said there are other man-made factors like the innumerable street food vendors who cook food in the open on coal ovens or kerosene ovens, adding to the pollution.

Speaking to IANS, environment activist Somendra Mohan Ghosh pointed out that an initiative was taken by the state government to replace the coal and kerosene ovens with electric induction cookers and accordingly distribution of these cookers started. However, the process stopped after providing such gadgets to just around 1,500 of the 10,000-odd street food vendors in the city.

The second and another major reason, according to Chattopadhyay, is the indiscriminate burning of garbage in open

places. He stressed on the introduction of a garbage segregation system in all the 144 wards under the KMC.

The third factor is the real estate activity in the city especially in the area adjacent to the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, which was supposed to be the lungs of Kolkata. The construction materials are piled high which results in polluting items getting mixed in the air. The environmentalists advocated joint action by the corporation, police and the environment department authorities against the real estate promoters.

According to Somendra Mohan Ghosh, the fast expansion of the real estate business, especially in the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass area, has resulted in a sharp decline in the percentage of water bodies and the greener areas in the city. “So, to prevent the pollution rate from increasing further, the government and the corporation authorities should take immediate measures to stop further construction on green patches or through filling up of the water bodies,” he added.

On automobile emissions, Ghosh feels that the only alternative is fast replacement of at least the diesel-driven commercial and public transport vehicles with CNG or electric vehicles. “Even in the case of the diesel-driven goods vehicles, they should be kept out of the city limits as far as possible. This will reduce the emission of air pollutants to a great extent,” he added.

Recently, the state transport department launched a number of e-buses under the West Bengal State Transport Corporation (WBSTC) and as announced by Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim efforts are on to replace all the passenger vehicles of WBSTC with e-buses in a gradual and phased manner.

Participating in the workshop conducted by the Kolkata Press Club, Member (Mayor-in-Council) of KMC, Debasish Kumar said that efforts are being made by the corporation authorities to increase the green spaces in the city by creating buffer zones for small trees on the roadside in different pockets of the city.

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