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Overwhelming murk

Editorial |

It might not exactly be “breaking news” that vehicular pollution levels in Kolkata have assumed direly alarming levels, so alarming indeed that it could leave the citizen almost breathless at peak hours of the day. Breathless no less has been the state government’s response. Small wonder that it has been rapped on the knuckles by the National Green Tribunal for its failure to restrict the excessively pollutant Bharat Stage-III vehicles and to phase out the 15-year-old ones. That deadline has partially been implemented in the case of buses; no initiative has as yet been taken to send the belching trucks and lorries to the junkyard. However ramshackle their condition, they do serve as the lifeline for inter-state trade. BS norms constitute the benchmark for vehicular emission. BS IV represents stringent norms to check exhaust fumes, said to be the major factor behind air pollution in Kolkata.

It reflects poorly on the government and the Pollution Control Board that the state’s report has virtually been binned by the tribunal with the stinging observation ~ “We do not find the report to be satisfactory as the most crucial and foundational requirement pertaining to our directions regarding the phase-out of (time-barred) vehicles and to permit only BS-IV vehicles to ply has not been complied with”. It is hard not to wonder whether the report was crafted to obfuscate matters. The state government’s claim that “work is in progress” is in the time-zone of “present continuous” and, therefore, neither here nor there. The directive against 15-year-old vehicles was advanced by the NGT at least a decade ago. The people are entitled to

basic health norms; like the NGT they do have the right to know what is impeding the cleansing process ~ sheer sluggishness on the part of the government or the interests of stakeholders? It could well be a combination of both, given the state’s work culture.

Rightly has the NGT directed the state’s transport department to furnish a fresh report on the basis of stipulated parameters: the number of vehicles ~ and their categories ~ that run in Kolkata, Howrah, and the neighbouring districts; the number of BS-III compliant vehicles that are still plying; the number of such vehicles that have been phased out; and the number of such potentially pollutant vehicles that have been entering the city and its peripheral areas for the past two years. Clearly, the tribunal is focussed on pollution levels caused by vehicles that fail to meet standards. There is little doubt that the government’s previous report on so critical an issue as the city’s environmental degradation was inadequate. Logically, therefore, the fresh findings must of necessity be a joint effort of the transport and environment departments and the Pollution Control Board. The last entity, regretfully, has been generally impervious to the overwhelming murk.