Indian auto market growth relies on increased car sales: Who is responsible for vehicle related public health hazards

Indian auto industry growth has been commendable these last few years giving domestic and foreign carmakers a chance to post impressive sales growth, and make their presence count. While traffic situations are choc-a-bloc on most streets, and those behind the wheels are continually calling for better infrastructure, there is another price we’re paying for this growth.

Public health problems are raising many a flag, and one wonders when something will be done. It shocks one to read that India has unhealthiest air in the world amongst 132 countries ranked globally, and vehicular traffic, vehicle exhaust and urbanization contribute

The number of children with breathing difficulties is increasing, and poor air quality sees 13% of Indian children aged below 5 who are hospitalized for respiratory infections, die. Respiratory pediatrician S.K. Kabra had this to say. “Pollution increases the morbidity, increases the frequency, increases the severity. If a mother and a baby are exposed to some pollutant, that will increase respective morbidity.”

Data corroborates that in India concentration of particulates is 5 times higher than what is considered safe for human health. While there are varied reasons for such toxicity, the focus remains on the increasing number of vehicles on Indian roads fuelling the toxic spiral.

As per Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director at Center for Science and Environment, “Imagine a city with more than 5.6 million vehicles, adding nearly 1,200 to 1,300 vehicles a day.” “The pace of the problem is growing faster than our ability to deal with it.” She added, “Now your diesel emissions, which are several times more carcinogenic, because of the subsidized fuel, their numbers are galloping today and adding to the toxic risk in our cities.” There’s no hiding the fact that private vehicle owners misuse diesel fuel subsidies for freight and agriculture.

Akshay Mani, specializes in sustainable transportation and warrants vehicle taxation in relation to their environmental cost. In his words, “Then you can also find solutions of how you use that money.” “You put it into a fund and use that fund to improve public transport and use it to create a more equitable system where you are taxing people who are driving while you’re using that money to actually provide good public transport for other sections of society.”

In context to the Delhi Metro public transport system he added, “How do you provide with the right kind of coverage given that public transport can’t reach all parts of the city?  How do you make sure all parts of city are accessible to public transport?  Because you have these feeder systems in place which can then make those stations accessible to all corners of the city,” Mani added. The only bright light now seems to be newer autorickshaws that are powered by low-emission natural gas and dispatch networks that enable passengers to call for a cab.