The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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14 futile steps to fight fumes

Two out of 14 — the clean-up count of the state government in the three years since it embarked on a slow-motion move to allow Calcuttans to breathe easier.

This pace of progress has its genesis in the formation of a committee of experts by the government, on orders from the Calcutta High Court, to suggest how to improve the quality of the air we breathe.

A 64-page list of 45 recommendations — 14 of them exclusively related to auto-emission — was submitted to the court in 2000, a year after the judicial order. And three years after the submission, members of the committee who had framed the recommendations are left wondering about the whole point of the exercise.

One of the members of the 10-member committee, Central Pollution Control Board (eastern region) director B.R. Naidu, admitted having “all but forgotten” about the recommendations. “And it would probably have been better if I had not been reminded about the recommendations… I don’t see even one of them being implemented,” he rued.

Chairman of the committee (and now posted in the Union ministry of home affairs) K.S. Ramasubban was a little less damning, but he, too, was convinced that the government lacked “seriousness of purpose”.

Referring to the no-money, no-time excuses thrown up by state transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, Ramasubban observed: “What they are saying may be partially true, but how come governments managing the other metros have been able to deal with similar problems'”

The report, its makers said, had touched upon every aspect of environment management — from the financial to the technical — and sought to guide the state government, the Centre, the automobile industry and the oil companies.

But 32 of the recommendations were directed at the state government, given that the ultimate responsibility for Calcutta’s air lay at its door, they added.

One of the recommendations asked the state government to privatise and decentralise the procedure of issuing certificates of fitness for vehicles. “We do not believe that such an important task can be entrusted in private hands,” countered public vehicles department (PVD) director and state transport department joint secretary Prashant. PVD insiders, however, said the money churned out by this single department everyday was the clincher for the rejection of the recommendation.

The government has come up with just the opposite explanation for refusing to adopt another recommendation asking it to take over control of the emission-testing centres. The government has said it does not have the infrastructure to run such centres. “Actually, the West Bengal Pollution Control Board and the PVD are always at loggerheads,” said former PVD director R. Venkataraman, a member of the committee.

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