Polluting buses leave road users fuming

Fumes from a TNSTC bus contributing to air pollution in Madurai.   | Photo Credit: R_ASHOK

Crossing the Goripalayam junction to board her bus to Mattuthavani Integrated Bus Stand daily comes with a heavy fit of cough for N. Malliga, a young professional. She is often engulfed in black smoke released from buses and share auto-rickshaws. She, like many other men and women, immediately cups her nose with her dupatta or hand. She says it barely helps.

“I think I should make the switch and wear one of those doctor's masks. It poses inconvenience but I have no choice because bus is my only means of travel,” she says.

Malliga is not alone. Several people are unable to stand the fumes released by buses run by Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation (TNSTC). K. Ravindran, who has been using a motorcycle for over 20 years, says he is wary of buses and drives away from them, especially during peak hours. He blames rapid urbanisation for the rise in number of vehicles. He says once cannot escape from the exhaust fumes.

There are 670 buses plying on city routes and 134 on suburban routes. All buses must get a certificate of fitness under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, says S. Sampath, State treasurer of TNSTC Staff Federation. The Act says: “A transport vehicle shall not be deemed to be validly registered unless it carries a certificate of fitness in such form containing such particulars and information as may be prescribed by the Central government, issued by the prescribed authority, or by an authorised testing station, to the effect that the vehicle complies for the time being with all the requirements of this Act and the rules made thereunder.”

Passenger cars, school vans and buses must also go to the Regional Transport Office for a bi-annual check by motor vehicle inspectors.

Several important amendments have been proposed to this 30-year-old Act through Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2016, but enforcement of several provisions remains a problem.

A TNSTC official says procedures to determine pollution level are hardly followed.

“The records are fudged. Anyone can get a fitness certificate for a price. Vehicles driven for seven to 15 years just have to pay the Green Tax every year. Paying the Green Tax does not ease the level of pollution,” he says.

Pollution checking is outsourced to private players, who ensure that it is within permissible levels.

“The TNSTC is short-staffed and does not have adequate funds. Hence little attention is paid to pollution matters,” he adds.

K. Muthuchelian, Chairperson, School of Energy, Environment and Natural Resources, Madurai Kamaraj University, says incomplete combustion of diesel, petrol, fuel oils and a mixture of fuel oils derived from crude oil leads to environment degradation. Incomplete combustion releases a variety of gasses, including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and sulphur. Hydrocarbons and other particulate matter, including black carbon, become major reasons for pollution.

Dust pollution

S. Rajamohan, Managing Director of Envirocare India, a company that specialises in green engineering, says dust particles contribute a major part to pollution. Since roads are covered in dust, the particles often fly and settle on various surfaces.

Areas in Madurai affected by high pollution levels are Periyar Bus Stand, Mattuthavani bus stand, Goripalayam, Simmakkal and Arasaradi Junction. Older vehicles cause more pollution and consistent exposure to the emissions leads to health risks.

“Particles that are released usually include carbon. Over 95% of TNSTC buses should not be running on our roads as they are in abysmal condition. Madurai is incapable of handling a large number of vehicles as there are insufficient number of trees along city roads. Self-restoring pollution mechanism does not not exist,” says Prof. Muthuchelian.

The presence of particulate matter (PM) of size 2.5 micron in Periyar bus stand area is currently 40-50 micrograms per cubic metre. The permissible level is 60. PM of size 10 micron is 65-70. The permissible limit is 100 micrograms per cubic metre. Sulphur dioxide is 40-50 micrograms per cubic metre but the allowed limit is 80 micrograms per cubic metre. Nitrogen oxide is 45-55 micrograms per cubic metre during peak hours but the limit is 80 micrograms per cubic metre.

Carbon monoxide’s presence amounts to 400 micrograms per cubic metre while the permissible level is 4 milligram/cubic metre.

Dr. Rajmohan says Madurai is not a ‘most-polluted city’ as it lacks big industries.

R. Vijay Anand of Indian Institute of Architects says more ring roads are required for long-distance buses and goods carriers to bypass the city.

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 12:15:40 AM |

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