Improving public transport will reduce pollution

Ninglun Hanghal
It has become a necessity for almost all families in Manipur to own at least two vehicles - a four-wheeler car and a two-wheeler scooter. For those who could afford to do so- it is no longer a question of comfort or a luxury but a compulsion. To add to the fact hundreds of scooters are sold out daily in Imphal alone.
One of the main reasons for such a huge number of privately owned cars and scooters on the road is that public transport systems are inconvenient, uncomfortable and unreliable. And one could well say that people would avoid public transport services.
The public transport fares are low, but these privately owned public transport services are not available to all locations in the city or towns. One needs to take at least two such autos if one has to reach more than 5 km within the city. And by 4 pm the services are winding down.
Three-wheeler - diesel autos – the most popular public transport in present situation in Manipur - ply with minimal charges. But one can imagine the condition of the passengers. One Auto takes a minimum of ten passengers all packed inside along with bags and items.
Now, what are the other options? There are other modes of public transport, such as three-wheeler autos too or car taxis. These modes are extremely expensive. And the oft repeated refrain being the skyrocketing prices of fuel. In Imphal  a litre of petrol was selling at Rs 99 last week.
Therefore, it becomes more convenient and an obvious choice to get a scooter for each of the member of a middle-class family
Similar is the case of inter-district transport. Mini vans and other private service transport ply on the roads. This too is packed with passengers. These public transports would close down by 5 pm in the evening. Thus, necessitating the need for a car for each family.
The situation is worse this pandemic lockdown where all public transports were off-the road and the general public had to rely on private vehicles. For the common man- mobility came to a standstill. Till today even as lockdown eases, the public transport has not really picked up.
Due to such reasons. Almost every family in Manipur has been forced to own more than one vehicle. Reportedly in early February the state transport minister was quoted to have stated in the media that traffic conditions especially in the capital Imphal have become alarmingly problematic.
As on February 3, 2021, the number of vehicles registered with the state department is 4,53,732.  Of these eighty per cent of those are plying in the capital city of Imphal alone. And they comprise of private vehicles and privately owned public transports. It may also be mentioned that a good number of cars and vehicles are found to be plying around the city and towns in Manipur without any registration numbers. It is also learnt that a huge number of vehicle owners are waiting for registration in the transport department.
In 2018 the Manipur Pollution Control Board was reported to have recorded that the level of Particulate Matter (PM10) in Keishampat area in the heart of Imphal city was found to be as high as 196 ìg (microgram) against the normal level of 100 ìg. According to the Air quality Index Level ( AQI) , that figure has the potential to cause breathing discomfort to people with lung disease such as asthma, and discomfort to people with heart disease, children and older adults.
Reportedly several public transport vehicles, the diesel auto-rickshaws in particular- were emitting carbon greater than the permissible limit. The Pollution Control Board also stated that 70 per cent of the vehicles being used in Imphal city are unfit ones, which have crossed the license of 15 years, thereby causing air pollution in the state capital.
Diesel auto-rickshaws being used in passenger service are one of the main contributors of noise and air pollution.  A normal person can understand that the emissions from these vehicles are alarming. The pollution is being witnessed and felt on a daily basis by the general public.
While looking towards Zero Emission in another five decades or so, one can begin small steps at a local level. One major way to control emission would be making the public transport services more public friendly, more systematise, convenient and comfortable. Certain regulations and policies should be in place to ensure that public transports systems improve, function well and serve their purposes. That will definitely control the number of private vehicles on the road – that will in-turn reduce pollution.
The Manipur government should take initiative to revive state public transports and its services and ensure that it caters to public needs.  
Reforestation- or stopping people from going to the forest to access natural resources alone would not be a solution to global warming. While we continue to plant trees, attempts should be parallelly made, such as ensuring functioning of public services like transports.
It is not only about setting a target to achieve a certain statistic or data, but it is also about public health. And in the post COVID scenario that is extremely crucial.