Yes! Diesel Auto rickshaws must be banned!

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By Rajkumar Bobichand
No doubt! Diesel run auto-rickshaws are benefiting few hundreds of people directly by providing a job to the riders and their family members; and hapless people of Manipur who are not given the opportunity of government run public transport system. While the introduction of diesel run auto-rickshaws are benefiting few hundreds of people as a source of earning for their income and as a means of transport to those who cannot own aktwo wheeler or a car, it does more harm to hundreds of thousands of people and its future generations of Manipur and the overall environment. It is now very obvious that the diesel run auto-rickshaws have greatly affected the environment of Imphal city.

The Imphal Free Press on its Editorial on 5 June 2012 wrote to ban diesel autos. The editorial explained about the air pollution causing health hazards and erratic traffic conditions caused by the diesel autos. Our air from which we breathe in oxygen is polluted by the carbon monoxides emitted by diesel engines particularly diesel auto-rickshaws in Imphal city and other towns of Manipur.

Imphal city clogged by Diesel auto3 emitting hazardous carbon monoxide amidst health concerns among citizens: Source: IFP

The health hazards caused by diesel exhaust fumes are manifolds.  We must highlight again and again the health hazards of diesel exhaust fumes.  We are informed that the tiny chemical particles emitted by diesel exhaust fumes could raise the risk of heart attacks. The ultrafine particles produced when diesel burns are harmful to blood vessels and can increase the chances of blood clots forming in our arteries, leading to a heart attack or stroke. Breathing in diesel exhausts during pregnancy is associated with sluggishness in offspring, less spontaneous motor activity and that this inactivity is associated with alterations in brain metabolism of neurotransmitters. It is also said that in the short term, breathing in diesel fumes can cause coughing, itchy or burning eyes, chest constriction, wheezing, and difficulty in breathing. It is quite obviously happening now in Manipur. There are many complaints though not officially that people in Imphal city and other towns where diesel run auto-rickshaws are plying for transportation are experiencing these health conditions. A simple survey or mini research can easily confirm this. Experts say that over the long term exposure to diesel fumes may increase the risk of lung cancer and possibly bladder cancer.

Another major impact given by the diesel auto-rickshaws is chaotic traffic. As many of the auto-rickshaw riders are not professional drivers who can commute passengers. We know that they are doing a great service by commuting passengers from every nooks and corners of Greater Imphal area and other towns to main market areas to and from everyday from dawn to dusk. But most of the time they violate traffic rules to speed up their vehicles to catch as many passengers as possible and reach their destinations faster. They will overtake from right or left at their will and stop in front of other running vehicles as they want. Frankly speaking, they don’t bother and care for others except getting passengers and dropping them at the fastest speed at their convenience only.

Another dangerous impact given by the diesel run auto-rickshaws is noise pollution of our environment. It is now threatening to the people living in Imphal city in particular and other towns of Manipur where auto-rickshaws are operating in general. It is said that the direct physiological effects include loss of hearing, either temporary or permanent. The non-auditory effects include cardiac ailments, stress, fatigue and disturbance to sleep leading to insomnia. Among the psychological effects documented by experts are lack of concentration, loss of memory and an adverse impact on education of children. Noise is also suspected of aggravating nausea, headache, insomnia and loss of appetite.

Noise pollution in Imphal city and other towns has risen to a dangerous level. It has been reported that the noise levels in parts of Imphal city are much beyond the permissible levels notified in the Noise Pollution Control (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000. The permissible noise levels are – in industrial area to 75 decibels, commercial areas to 65 decibels and residential areas to 55 decibels and also to establish zones of silence within 100 metres near schools, courts and hospitals. The prescribed daytime levels between 6 am and 10 pm are 10 decibels higher than the corresponding levels for night time except in industrial areas where the difference is just 5 decibels.

It was reported after an independent survey by Imphal Free Press last year, noise levels measured at Johnstone school area at 10 am was at an average of 74 decibels with a peak of 97 decibels indicating clear violation of the permissible levels of noise in and around school areas. Heavy vehicles are using gas horns which has a peak level of 90+ decibels measured from 30 metres. Post office traffic point, Keishampat traffic point, Khoyathong traffic point and North AOC traffic point all registered an average of 70+ decibels with peak of 90+ decibels. Kwakeithel, Lamlong, Palace Gate, Singjamei and RIMs gate were the places that registered levels of less than 70 decibels on average but peak levels crossed 90 decibels in all areas.

In addition to the ever multiplying number of vehicles on the roads of Imphal, the numerous diesel auto rickshaws that ply on almost every nook and corner of Imphal city and other towns are of concern. It has further reported that noise levels measured inside a diesel auto-rickshaw measured an average of 80+ decibels. Of more concern is the parking of these autos where average noise levels almost reach 90 decibels. Recently, it has been reported that the noise level in Imphal city has reached at 76 decibels, 11 points above limit in Imphal city.

The diesel run auto-rickshaws mainly introduced under the Self Employment Generation Programme (SEGP) of Government of Manipur is obviously the main cause of noise pollutions in Imphal and other towns of Manipur. These disturbing diesel auto-rickshaws must be banned immediately and replaced by other less noise vehicles. It is apparent that the responsible departments and agencies of government of Manipur dot not take it seriously about the possible environmental impacts of the diesel auto-rickshaws. The partner bank, Manipur State Co-operative Bank through which the SEGP is implemented also simply granted loans in carrying out their financial business.

As auto-rickshaws were provided to few unemployed people through SEGP, the Government of Manipur must take the responsibility to replace by providing less noise vehicles to the auto-rickshaw riders or engage them with suitable trades. The Government of Manipur is obviously responsible for excessive noise pollution in Imphal for encouraging diesel auto-rickshaws, not controlling use of gas horns and unreasonable vehicles and not providing public transport system for Imphal city.  The Transport and traffic rules must be strictly regulated to decrease the noise levels. The government should introduce a public transport system with expansion of area of coverage by operating the unutilised semi-low floor buses with low fares to lessen the number of private vehicles in Imphal city to lessen the noise pollution; and to provide transport facility to people who cannot afford two wheelers and cars. The government should encourage people to ride cycles in and around Imphal city to decrease the noise levels caused by numerous vehicles. Parking lots for cycles should be provided in and around Khwairamband Bazar area. Now, this is time for environmentalists, health workers, social activists, opinion makers and policy makers to work together for a better environment. And Diesel auto-rickshaws must be banned.

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