The Telegraph
Monday , July 7 , 2014

Smoke devils slay clean air baby steps

- Court-spurred special committee to curb vehicular pollution in coma for four months

A laggard government machinery can be more lethal than toxic fumes.

Or so will agree daily commuters who inhale lung-wearying smoke spewed by vehicles and curse the administration more for its prolonged apathy.

In February, Jharkhand High Court had come down heavily on the state transport department as unabated vehicular emissions caused hazardous hike in level of air contaminants in Ranchi and other cities.

It had directed setting up of a committee comprising top officials from JSPCB, transport, traffic and urban development departments, the Ranchi district administration and the RMC, besides advocates, and make concerted efforts to check pollution.

In no time, the panel was floated under the transport secretary. Amid high tea and pleasantries, it hosted a maiden meeting at a posh capital hotel the same month and announced a long to-do list.

Four months down the line, all plans to help Jharkhand’s cities breathe easy have gone up in smoke as vehicles private and public continue to blatantly violate pollution control norms.

Top among the to-do measures listed by the transport department was issuing a fiat to motorists to “update pollution certificates and display them prominently” on vehicles by April-end, failing which would supposedly invite legal action.

Also, through a news conference, it was announced that special patrol teams would randomly check pollution certificates on vehicles.

The strict screening system was to debut in Ranchi and, subsequently, be introduced in Jamshedpur, Bokaro, Dhanbad, Hazaribagh and Dumka, which are some of the worst affected cities and towns.

A further directive promised setting up of pollution checking stations, which are currently few and far between.

The committee even suggested allowing only 3,000 auto-rickshaws to ply in Ranchi and introduce more buses to curb unbridled emissions. Four months since, more than 10,000 smoke-belching little tin monsters continue to rule the roads in the state capital. Around 20 per cent of them have permits.

Finally, one of the long-term proposals of the pollution control committee was establishing LPG stations to completely do away with carbon contaminants released into the air by vehicles fuelled by diesel or petrol.

Transport department officials cited the conventional manpower crunch and sounded unfazed over the pollution status quo.

Haan, karna toh tha par kuch hua nahi iss disha mein. Special committee ka dobara kabhi meeting bhi nahi hua. Sab bhul gaye (Yes, a lot was planned but not much happened. The special committee never met again. Everyone forgot about it),” a Ranchi district transport official said, adding that the state department was supposed to take a lead.

Transport commissioner Manoj Kumar conceded the same, but claimed shortage of employees was a major deterrent in proper planning.

Officiating chief secretary and transport secretary Sajal Chakraborty too admitted that nothing had progressed on the anti-pollution front. His excuses were polls and transfers.

“We made a good beginning, but after that the Lok Sabha elections happened. Our officials were posted outstation on poll duties. Also, I was given additional charge of acting chief secretary while our former transport commissioner Himani Pande was made additional chief electoral officer. Naturally, things went pending. However, I will soon review the plans,” he said.

He added: “I realise the problems faced by commuters, especially in Ranchi owing to congestion and all. That is the reason I began a drive with the traffic SP. Without any doubt, curbing vehicular pollution and improving the public transport system is our priority.”

Which parts of your city are more polluted than the rest?