What India is doing today, Bengal had professed to do yesterday, but will probably not do even tomorrow.
The clean-air conundrum dates back to September 2002, when the Bengal government had been the first to respond to a Supreme Court prod to four metros — Calcutta, Pune, Ahmedabad and Kanpur — and submit an “alternative fuel-based action plan”.
The apex court had used that plan to set the tone for subsequent air-pollution action to be taken by other metros, as well.
Now, even as the other big polluted cities clean up their act with fuel conversion in one form or the other, the original mover — Calcutta — has taken a U-turn from alternative energy source (LPG/CNG) to mere emission monitoring.
A selective submission was made by the state transport department, based on which Calcutta High Court issued a directive on following of tail-pipe emission norms from October 1, 2004. This is being viewed by environment circles as a “clear diversion” from the guidelines set by the apex court for all metros.
The Supreme Court has, right from Delhi’s CNG days, stressed the importance of fuel change to clean the air. Monitoring tail-pipe emission was just a part of the things to be done.
“While discussing the air pollution problem in Delhi, the Supreme Court had categorically asked for the alternative fuel-based action plan for some cities, including Calcutta,” recounted an environmentalist. “The Bengal government, with inputs from the transport department, was the first to submit the plan with a roadmap for conversion to LPG,” he added.
The government has not only failed to act on its own action plan, it is now trying its best to not bring it into play at all. “I don’t know whether they have even submitted the copy of that action plan to the high court, though the Supreme Court had advised other states to prepare their plans with reference to the Bengal report,” said an official in the environment department.
Now, all other cities directly under the Supreme Court scanner are “converting to LPG/CNG in full swing”. Calcutta and Mumbai high courts had been involved in the matter and, so, were asked to monitor their metros.
During an environment seminar earlier this week in Delhi, it was revealed that of 84,000 autos in Mumbai, 58,000 have already converted to LPG or CNG.
In Bangalore, about 50 per cent of the 60,000 autos have undergone fuel conversion, while Ahmedabad is taking the CNG and Chennai the LPG routes.
In Calcutta, the government — armed with the high court order — proposes to do nothing but wait for the all-India October 1 deadline to meet the tail-pipe emission standards.
All talk of fuel conversion has now been choked, allowing prime offenders like autos to go scot-free. Even the recent technical committee report commissioned by the state transport department had put down conversion of Calcutta autos to LPG as the first step to curb air pollution. Now, they will just have to ‘manage’ the monitoring agencies to keep polluting the streets.