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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Since the past decade, Delhi has been witnessing one of the world’s worst smog ever in October and November. Diwali and farmers are blamed every year for causing such a hazardous situation for the national capital. However, Delhi shies away from changing itself to solve the problem once and for all. It is easy to put the blame game on others, and do nothing. The Delhi Government has taken some steps to minimize air pollution, but it is usually too little too late.
More than the Delhi Government, the current infrastructure and apathy of the citizens towards the environment of Delhi are more responsible for the Great Smog. Many of Delhi’s power plants are located in the suburbs, which are completely closed during the smog period. Construction work that generates too much fly ash is also halted all across Delhi. Usually, the order from the Government comes after Delhi gets completely engulfed in smog. On the other hand, little changes in lifestyle and infrastructure could have worked better for Delhi, which exists in a place in other parts of the country. Some of them are listed below.
1)Use Delhi Metro : Delhi metro is one of the quickest, cleanest, and easiest modes of transportation in Delhi. The carbon footprints of Delhi Metro is significantly lower than that of all other transportation. Delhi metro has expanded to connect every nook and corner of the national capital. Delhi metro over the years is increasingly becoming more and more eco-friendly by installing solar panels, providing buses and e-rickshaw, and even taxis for last-mile connectivity. Despite all the good efforts, Delhi metro is yet to attract every commuter across the city owing to its expensive ticketing costs. Kolkata metro may be an example of a cheap metro which attracted commuters from all classes due to its cheap rates.
2)Expand Delhi Suburban Railway : Similar to the Delhi Metro, Delhi has a good network of railway lines towards the suburban cities of Ghaziabad, Gurgaon, Faridabad, Sonipat, and Meerut. However, most of the tracks are used for long-distance trains and freight trains. Delhi has a ring railway which remains completely disused today. Suburban services are unattractive to the citizens, having little or no interchange with major bus or metro stops. Delhi does not have a monorail, tram, or any other form of transit other than the metro. Thus reliant on the usage of roads is heavy, causing huge traffic jams. Local trains of Mumbai are a good example of how suburban railways are used by a large chunk of the city population.
3)Lack of Greenery : Delhi never used to lack greenery despite being the capital of various dynasties and empires. The Mughals and even the British were fond of gardens and open spaces which serves not only as a place for recreation but also as a source of fresh air and oxygen. Delhi today has grown beyond its borders and has eaten down even the small pockets of greenery that remained. Today only the southern parts of Delhi have some open space, where big, old trees are being felled for fields, locally called maidans, for sports and yoga. Nearby cities like Chandigarh, Jaipur and Agra have significantly less pollution due to large areas of natural vegetation within the city boundaries.
4)Unreliable Bus Service : Bus service across the city is not that reliable either, prompting most people to use either private cars or bikes for transportation. Private cars and bikes are the biggest sources of air pollution in the city. Chennai has an excellent network of bus service catering 80% of the local transportation. Buses in Delhi are usually off-route, unfriendly, infrequent, and irregular, apart from being expensive, causing most of the population to stay away from using them.
5)Promotion of Green Fireworks : No steps have been taken by the Government to stop the sale of banned fireworks, which cause too much pollution. Green fireworks, on the other hand, release significantly lower amounts of pollutants, thus can curb the sudden spike in pollution levels just after Diwali. As green fireworks are a bit on the pricier side, most sellers do not sell them to attract more customers. The Government, instead of promoting green fireworks and banning the illegal, is confused about what rules to apply. Banning illegal fireworks and promoting green fireworks comes way too late when most crackers are sold, and the crackers are unclassified whether illegal or not. Assam and the north-eastern states are doing well in this regard strictly allowing only green fireworks to be sold.
We all need to join hands and save our environment. Can you suggest some measures to do so? Tell us in the comment section below.
Chhat Puja, the festival honouring worshipping the Sun, and Chhati Maiya, is one of the biggest festivals of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Nepal and Chhattisgarh. Chhat Puja involves offering flowers, whole fruits, incense, and ghee to Lord Surya. The offerings are usually, and traditionally left untouched in water bodies until they rot and decompose. Many environmentalists have claimed that such rituals do more good for maintaining the ecosystem in rivers, lakes and ponds than harm. However, some environmentalists do contradict this view as well.
Other than the states where Chhat puja is widely celebrated, Chhat puja is discouraged by local authorities, citing environmental issues. Kolkata, which has sizable Bihari and UP communities, see conflicts related to rituals involving water bodies. Some alleged that the rituals hamper water quality in the short term for bathing, washing, drinking and other purposes. But the biggest obstruction is made by several environmentalist groups, which sprang up with or without authorization, who are not opposed to idol immersion but raise serious concern over Chhat rituals.
Let us for the time being focus on Kolkata, where Chhat is widely celebrated by a sizeable minority. For a long time, only the river Hooghly was used for Chhat rituals, while local ponds, lakes and other places were avoided. But as the Bihari and UP communities grew with time, there was the need of using ponds and lakes for Chhat puja in places far away from the river. That only caused minor local conflicts, most of which got resolved as soon as they started. However, as the State Government intervened, and provided the worshippers with additional ghats along the river, as well as designated ponds and lakes, the celebrations not only became peaceful but also spread among the locals, creating a sense of unity. This is when some environmentalists crept in and cited environmental issues to stop the festival and hence the unity in diversity.
Let us now look into why many environmentalists claim Chhat Puja is eco-friendly. Chhat puja is performed mostly on the banks of rivers and other water bodies, involving peace, tranquillity, and nature. Chhat puja rituals do not require temple or enclosed space, overcrowding, harmful colours, paints and water-soluble materials. Flowers, fruits, ghee decompose in water, providing nutrition for aquatic life. All the products used in this puja are biodegradable, thus making this puja so eco-friendly.
However, several small factors concern environmentalists. Firstly, though the festival is supposed to be peaceful and quiet, many non-ritual elements have been added to it in recent times. Beating drums and bursting loud crackers are increasingly becoming popular among worshippers. Some protected areas surrounding water bodies, like Rabindra Sarovar Lake and Subhash Lake in Kolkata are home to a large number of migratory birds that arrive from Siberia during the onset of winter. Loud noise hampers their movement and even local birds have started avoiding their habitat in Rabindra Sarovar and Subhash Sarovar. Also, since the Bihari community has grown considerably in recent years, too many flowers, fruits, and ghee will block the sunlight and destroy the rich aquatic plants in these two places. The stagnant nature of such large lakes means that the products thrown into the lakes are likely to persist for a very long time. All these forced the National Green Tribunal to ban the Chhat puja celebration in these two lakes in Kolkata. To compensate for the above two places, worshippers have been allocated more ghats for performing the puja. Still, some miscreants try to create shortcuts and enter the lakes for rituals even though there are many other nearby places.
All these caused a section of the Bengali society to turn against Chhat puja. There are some genuine issues, which most worshippers can bring a change to celebrate the festival together. Voices must be raised against those who are not following law and order in environmental protection. Also, we need to raise our awareness against false allegations and petitions given by some environmentalists, without any justification for their cause. Social media is their best platform for spreading hatred. The number of hate posts, claiming rampant environmental pollution should be cross-checked and verified with reason before any action is taken. Otherwise, the peace and bond that this festival brings will remain a distant reality.
Global air quality monitoring website http://airvisual.com has claimed that North India’s air might be the most polluted air in the world as “a thick smog of toxic pollutants” engulfed the surrounding in 2019. Every year after the month of September-October, the stubble burns post-harvest ushers to dreadful instances in Delhi and adjoining states. Extreme cases of stubble firing deteriorate the smog levels and choke Delhi and the surrounding regions. This year too, stubble burning poses a severe threat to pollution levels, air quality, and general public health. The centre and states both are working with utmost diligence and perseverance to tackle the issue in an effective manner.
The farmers and substantial farming tracts of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Punjab are under strict vigilance. Chandigarh and Delhi have already banned the exchange and usage of crackers of all categories with immediate effect. The languishing AQI of Delhi is influencing the well being of netizens. To curb the grave circumstances, the state government is rendering all the imperative arrangements, but the battle can only be conquered with public cooperation. Diwali is around the nooks, which further strikes the issue of firecrackers.
The usage of crackers can make the situation out of control if not embarked correctly. Delhi and its neighbours have already set up a separate commission to regulate stubble burning impacts. The arrest of farmers is making the headlines. North India is handling the situation by making immediate arrests, banning crackers, and monitoring farms.
Time will depict how the implementation goes and whether it yields satisfactory results or not.For now we can only hope and pray that people residing over there are NOT exposed to hazardous environment.