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Data more toxic than fumes

- Pollution safety farce

Ranchi, Feb. 9: The state transport department issued a diktat to commuters to get pollution safety certificates and paste them “prominently” on vehicles by April-end, but this fiat may prove farcical with two dozen emission checkpoints for some 30 lakh registered vehicles.

Following successive raps from the high court, a special committee comprising officials from transport and urban development departments, Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board, district administrations, civic bodies and traffic police held its first meeting in the capital yesterday on curbing air pollution.

Indicting vehicles belching fumes, the panel headed by transport secretary Sajal Chakraborty told the media that all vehicles would need to display pollution safety certificates in two-and-a-half months.

Easier said than done.

According to state records till August 2012, Jharkhand had 29 lakh-plus registered vehicles. On an average, there is a 10 per cent hike a year in the number of vehicles, so even by conservative estimates, there are over 30 lakh vehicles in the state today. Yet, there are only two dozen emission checkpoints across Jharkhand.

Number crunchers will find the ratio of vehicles to emission checkpoints mind-boggling. For the layman, finding a checkpoint — also called a pollution testing centre — is a proverbial Herculean task.

Transport department figures of 2012 say Ranchi, Jamshedpur and Dhanbad together have over 17 lakh vehicles, but some 10-12 testing centres. Districts Gumla, Chatra and Latehar, with over 50,000 vehicles in all, do not have a single centre.

Many testing hubs are outsourced to private firms. The state has no monitoring mechanism for them.

A transport department official specified parameters for petrol and diesel vehicles.

For petrol vehicles, two emissions are primarily tested — carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrocarbons (CH).

“For two-wheelers, the permissible CO limit is 4.5 per cent and for three and four wheelers it is 3 per cent. There is no set limit for CH, the lower the better,” he said. Smoke density is tested for diesel ones. “Permissible smoke density is 65 HSU (Hetric Standard Unit). Vehicles emitting smoke above it are put in the highly-polluted category,” he added.

In theory, an owner must take his vehicle to the testing centre to get it checked and obtain a certificate. In practice, one can often ‘buy’ a pollution safety certificate.

When transport secretary Chakraborty was asked about the twin problems of too few testing centres and too many fake certificates, he said he had solutions for both.

“Demand for certificates will encourage supply of testing hubs. We will try to set up more testing centres across the state in the next two-and-a-half months,” he said. “If a vehicle has a certificate but emits fumes, its testing centre will be taken to task,” he added.