Cyclists Number Growing in the Country after Pandemic

The latest research has shown that West Bengal holds the highest percentage of households having a bicycle among all Indian states and Union Territories. 78.9% of households in the state have a bicycle. With the abundant availability of local transports, like e-rickshaws, good network of local trains, trams, and electric buses, West Bengal is showing the way for a green as well as effective mode of transportation.

The national average percentage of households having a bicycle is quite less at only 50.4%. The presence of hilly terrain is a hindrance to cycling. Hence, some states like Nagaland (5.5%) and Sikkim (5.9%) have fallen behind, being the states with lowest and second lowest percentage of households having a bicycle. However, others like Gujarat and Delhi have recorded poor percentages of only 29.9% and 27.2% respectively.

Presence of bicycles is still a hindrance in Kolkata, where many busy streets have a cycle ban on them. However, the Newtown and Salt Lake areas in Kolkata fared well with bicycle tracks and regular riders where young riders are mostly found. The rural Bengal is however, the greatest contributor, where a recent Sabuj Saathi scheme was floated by the State Government. According to the scheme, bicycles are given to students of class 9 to 12 for easier commuting to school. According to a senior Government official, this is responsible for West Bengal achieving the top spot in percentage of households having a bicycle.

With the increase in fuel prices, bicycles have the potential to replace existing motor bikes and cars in some places at least. Also, as the resources are getting depleted, we right now need alternative sources of energy which will sustain our needs as well as not get depleted anytime soon. Bicycling is currently the best solution among the youth for a healthy lifestyle as well, and is fast becoming a way to stay fit during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Currently, more than half of Indian households have a bicycle. The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered the use of bicycles as the public transport was little available. The Covid-19 pandemic also made sure to be self-dependent on transportation, health maintenance and other factors. The number is expected to grow bigger in the coming days, as we modernize the bicycle, use it for general purposes everywhere, and become more conscious about our health and environment. However, it also depends on how the new generation spreads awareness about cycling.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Sikkim Transport Connectivity

Sikkim, the least populous state in India, is strategically one of the most important. Sikkim is tucked away in the high hills of the Himalayas, and is connected to the rest of India through only one major road. Sikkim borders 3 countries, China, Nepal and Bhutan, and parts of it are disputed with China. With Chinese expansion in various border sectors of India, including Doklam plateau, India should need to step up its transportation in the border states.

As Sikkim is located high in the hills, waterways are not an option for transportation in this state. Sikkim has only one road connected to Siliguri town, the NH10, which often gets blocked in the monsoon due to landslides. Thus there is a need to expand railway and air service in Sikkim, apart from improving the road condition of NH10, and exploring other roadways possibilities.

The NH10 is being expanded to 4 lane and landslide-prone. There is another road connecting Darjeeling with Jorethang. A third road is under construction, which will connect Kalimpong town with Oodlabari near Siliguri, and will proceed to Pedong, Zuluk and Nathu La pass, following the old silk route from China.

Sikkim got its first airport when the greenfield Pakyong airport was made operational in 2018. However, the airport lacked basic facilities, like night-landing facilities, less runway length, and hence, it is not possible to make it a commercial success. Its only operating airline, SpiceJet, suspended operations for nearly 2 years due to villager’s agitations and technical challenges in landing in the airport. The good news is that flight operations have resumed, though irregular. Pakyong airport, if maintained well along with reliable flight operations, can be a commercial success, drawing tourists from all over the country to this small, picturesque state.

The most talked about transportation link to Sikkim is the railways. A small station by the name of Sevok, is the nearest railway station in Sikkim, and hence, it was planned to lay a railway line from Sevok to Rangpo in Sikkim. The railway line is currently under construction, with new stations proposed at Rangpo, Melli, Tista Bazaar, and Riang. More than 85% of the line is through tunnels and bridges. After the foundation stone was laid in 2009, it took 10 years for work to start owing to non-availability of forest clearances, wildlife clearances and unrest in Darjeeling. Though the Indian Government is hopeful of completing the project by its deadline in December 2023, it is unlikely to be met.

After proper connectivity, the smallest state of India, in terms of population will become the largest state in terms of tourism and revenue earning per capita. Sikkim is also India’s first state, where farming is 100% organic. Also it is encouraging various ecological and environmental measures to protect the fragile environment it uniquely possess.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Cleaning the Ghats of Kolkata – Part 2

This is part 2 of the series. To read about part 1, click here.

In the part 1 of the series, we have seen how we have polluted the ghats of Kolkata, which had for many decades been the lifeline of the city, through its water transport, providing drinking water, and having historical and religious sites. However, we ourselves are responsible for not maintaining the ghats, leading them to be shabby and dilapidated, making them a place for garbage dump, and a breeding area of mosquitoes. However, as we are looking at the western world, how they are maintaining cities, some of which have been raged to the ground, awareness is spreading among the masses in and around Kolkata.

We have looked at how several committees within the city are looking forward to making Kolkata a cleaner and greener city. While the authorities have done a wonderful job in the Newtown and to some extent salt lake area, such could not be made possible without the awareness of the public around the crowded old town, which lies at the bank of the river. While a rich section of the society is aware about cleaning the ghats of Kolkata, most common people, especially those living near the river are not. It is up to the committees, to spread the news of keeping the environment clean.

Some committees like Y-East and Bouddi have initiated a cleanliness drive along the ghats of Kolkata. They have engaged over 100 local people to clean up some of the well-known ghats of Kolkata. For more information about that matter, visit https://www.y-east.org/diary/bouddi-and-y-east-begin-hooghly-river-clean-up-project-in-kolkata/ Y-East and Techno Main Salt Lake college has also organized a Plogging competition around the city, helping with the cause. Schools like Delhi Public School in Kolkata also campaigned to spread awareness to keep the Hooghly river clean. There are some Facebook groups and communities where like minded people come together to save the Hooghly river flowing past Kolkata. We all need to come together and make Kolkata a clean and green city to live.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Organic Farming in India – Good or Harmful?

The term organic farming refers to farming methods using only biofertilizers, biopesticides, for growing traditional, heirloom, high-yielding, and even genetically-modified seeds. Organic farming is at its nascent stage in India, where a few farms have taken up the new initiative to make food crops healthy. Despite being a healthier alternative, organic farming poses substantial challenges to farmers, and may never replace chemical fertilizers and pesticides throughout the country.

Sikkim is currently the only state in India whose agriculture is 100% organic. Only 4 other states – Meghalaya, Mizoram, Uttarakhand and Goa have more than 10% of the land under organic farming. Overall, the whole country has only 2% of land under organic cultivation. The top 3 states by areas under organic farming – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra constitute more than half the total area for organic farming.

Though many states of India have their own organic farming policies, most of them are not looking to meet their targets. Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Mizoram, Kerala, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh have desired to become fully organic farming states in coming years. Karnataka, Maharashtra and Rajasthan have their own policies for organic farming. However, none have made it as far as Sikkim. Despite its small area, India has the highest number of organic farmers in the world.

Organic farming in India has the potential to become popular in hilly areas, and areas of large ecological diversity. This is because chemical fertilizers and pesticides can get washed away by rain water to rivers, lakes and ponds, polluting them, causing diseases to man and the wild. Eutrophication still possesses major problems across rural India. This is predominant in the hills as run-off water in the hills easily reach the plains and subsequently the rivers. It also poses a hazard to pisciculture as chemical fertilizers and pesticides kill fish and aquatic life.

However, despite its advantages, the drawbacks are keeping a check on the growth of organic farming in India. Firstly, productivity is low at around 60-75% of the yield of conventional agriculture. Secondly, India has a huge middle and low income class population which cannot afford an increase in prices for daily food items and groceries. Thirdly, it would be impossible to feed the huge population of India though its own produce and India would then need to import more food crops to avoid a famine. Lastly, organic food is healthier is a myth, though organic food is environment friendly.

We can have organic farms where environment protection is our top priority. The hilly states, which have opted for organic farming policy should implement them as soon as possible with or without assistance from the Centre. However, for the bulk of the produce, we still require it to be dependent on conventional agriculture, to sustain the huge demand to feed the overgrowing population of India.

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Written by – Himadri Paul

Electric Vehicles in India

Electric vehicles are automobiles that run on electricity instead of conventional petrol or diesel. While electricity is also produced only after burning fossil fuels, its carbon footprint is much lower, and the air pollution occurs far away from big cities or crowded towns. Electric cars and buses use rechargeable batteries for storing electricity, while trams and trolley buses use overhead wire for the same purpose. With rising prices for petrol and diesel, the Indian Government as well the state governments are looking to switch over to electric vehicles to not only reduce transportation but also reduce the mineral oil import to India. The Government at the same time is looking towards new greener sources of electric power like solar, wind, and hydro which will further reduce India’s dependency on mineral oil.

E-Rickshaw in Streets Carrying Passengers

One of the first revolutions in electric transportation is the e-rickshaw, also called toto. E-rickshaw has cheaper operation costs, thus have attracted the attention of auto-drivers. E-rickshaws have replaced conventional auto-rickshaws in most villages and some cities. However, they are functioning poorly in the cities due to pressure created by auto unions and some bad politics. E-rickshaws are increasingly becoming more popular among the passengers due to less jerk and comfort and hence have a bright future ahead.

Two-wheelers were the next target for a massive e-vehicle move. E-bikes are becoming increasingly popular as well as affordable to not only the rich but also the middle class. Electric vehicles have a very high initial cost which keeps away most riders preferring a cheaper vehicle. Moreover, low top speed and unavailability of charging places are some of the main reasons why e-bikes are still unpopular among the masses.

Charging Station in Mumbai

Electric cars are the future of our cars. But they are not going to replace motor cars in the streets of India anytime soon. Electric cars are worth several times that of motor cars, hence are unaffordable for most people. But with increased production, the cost can get lowered to a margin slightly above motor cars having similar features. Charging is a major problem for electric cars as charging a car takes a considerable amount of time, and are unreliable for long-distance travelling. The best option available outside India is battery swapping, which is widely gaining popularity. Similar to re-fueling, used car batteries are swapped with charged ones. This saves up a lot of time, saves employment of charging stations, and is also more convenient to use. Improving the top speed remains a priority for the engineers as electric cars have much lower top speed and hence will be unable to compete with highway vehicles. Electric cars are best used within towns and cities where huge traffic slows down vehicular speed.

Electric Bus in Kolkata

Electric buses are a new addition to the fleet of public transportation in India. Electric buses ply largely along the streets of satellite towns and modern developed areas. Electric buses with AC do not charge greater than the AC motor buses, hence can be afforded by all. However, there is a clear difference in operational cost between non-AC electric and motor buses, hence non-AC electric buses are almost absent. Many State Governments are looking to switch their IC engine bus fleet to electrical by 2030 in large polluted cities.

Trams are operational in Kolkata though it a much smaller network. With constant apathy from the West Bengal Government, Kolkata tram is not looking at a bright future as a mode of urban transportation. More likely it will keep operating trams in some heritage routes as a tourist attraction. Mumbai monorail, after a poor start, is performing well as the corridors have reached crowded and busy junctions of the city. Light railway do not have an operational status in India though is at a planning stage in Delhi. Ropeway is hardly used anywhere in India as a public transportation despite having great potential. It is, and will still continue to be used only as a tourist attraction.

Mumbai Monorail

In conclusion, it can be drawn that except for e-rickshaw, most other vehicles will not go a transformation from IC engines to electric anytime soon. But the change will occur gradually in the long term. The Government needs to contribute a lot to bring about this change, like installing charging or battery swapping stations, reducing initial costs through subsidiaries, finding new forms of vehicles like e-buses, trolley buses, trams, and light railways. Only after switching a considerable fleet of public transportation to electric, we can expect a similar gradual switching in the private transportation sector.

Written by – Himadri Paul