Cycles Banned – An Irony of Kolkata’s Air Pollution Crisis
An open letter to the Chief Minister appeals for lifting the present cycling restrictions across 64 major roads as study finds Kolkata traffic police who have implemented the cycling ban, are themselves most vulnerable to air pollution.
Kolkata, August 9, 2021: Even as the move to ban cycles on 64 roads has left the people from the ‘City of Joy’ disappointed, an open letter addressed to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee seeking removal of the ban, points out that Kolkata traffic cops- enforcing the ban) are themselves highly susceptible to respiratory ailments due to air pollution, further increasing chances of morbidity from Covid-19.
Terming the ban unjustified, SwitchON Foundation, a not-for-profit group, which has initiated the open letter as well as a campaign #BringBackCycles advocates that cycles are not only a zero-emission transportation but also enables livelihoods and reduces congestion in the city.
Among the 64 major roads, Camac Street, Shakespeare Sarani, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Rashbehari Avenue Connector, Ashutosh Mukherjee Road to name a few where cycling is banned.
Open letter garnering huge support
Already creating a buzz, the open letter has garnered huge support from prominent voices of Kolkata as well as across India. Some of the eminent names who have endorsed the open letter demanding the need to bring back cycles include Actor-Film Director Aparna Sen, Rahul Banerjee Archer presently at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Member of Parliament Prof. Saugata Roy, Singer Usha Uthup, Anupam Roy, Clinical Director Oncology Dr Suman Mallick, Sportsperson Dola Banerjee, Actor Anindya Chatterjee, Photojournalist Raghu Rai, Journalist & Human Rights Activist Sumanta Banerjee, Economist and Social Scientist Jean Dreze and Dunu Roy Director Hazard Centre among others.
The open letter has also found support from Author & Climate alarmist Amitav Ghosh known for his strong views in his literary works focussing on climate change and human migration as well as Indian author of inspiring children’s books Ruskin Bond. Other prominent names include Actress Dia Mirza, Cricketer Varun Aaron, Indian documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, Mohandas Pai, Chairman, Aarin Capital Partners, Senior Advocate Justice Anjana Prakash, fashionista Prasad Bidappa, Tushar Gandhi, great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, activist Aruna Roy.
Air Pollution decreasing respiratory & cardiovascular health of traffic cops
Vinay Jaju, Founder of SwitchON Foundation which has created Bengal Clean Air Network stated that ironically those who have implemented the cycling ban, are themselves most vulnerable to air pollution as per a study.
The study – Evaluation of impact of ambient air pollution on respiratory health of traffic police in Kolkata – by researchers from Sister Nibedita Government General Degree College for Girls, Kolkata & University of Kalyani, found that high levels of particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) resulted in reduced lung function, more for police personnel towards north Kolkata followed by south and central zones.
A total of 228 police personnel participated in the study of which 128 undertook pulmonary lung function tests. Researchers found that traffic constables were at a higher risk group, likely to develop respiratory dysfunctions. PM 2.5 and PM 10 were found to be associated with decreasing respiratory and cardiovascular health of traffic police, leading to the risk of death. The survey also showed many traffic cops with restriction of lung expansion, obstruction, and narrowing airways.
“From the study we found PM 2.5 and PM 10 are key polluting agents in Kolkata. Although ambient air quality varies across locations and with seasons, traffic cops working were found to be seriously vulnerable due to long term exposure,” said Dr. Subhashis Sahu, Associate Professor & Head, Department of Physiology, University of Kalyani and co-author of the study.
Dr. Sahu explained that traffic cops working especially in Central Kolkata frequently complain of respiratory ill health. “The longer exposure to a polluted environment causes more impairment of pulmonary function parameters,” he said, adding that for improvement of air quality, less polluting transportation such as cycles was key.
Kolkata Lets #BringBackCycles:
Vinay Jaju informs that they have appealed to the Commissioner of Police, Kolkata to lift the ban and help implement a cycle safe infrastructure for Kolkata. “We have already addressed the issues inhibiting them from having a cycle track in and around the city. This is why we consulted a wide range of mobility experts from across the country who were in favour of keeping cycling at the centre of the mobility planning for sustainable development in cities,” he said.
Padma Shri awardee singer Usha Uthup who even created a cycle song in her own unique style to support the campaign shared that it took a lockdown in the entire country to make people fall in love with cycles once again making them extremely popular.
“Today the youth are back on the roads cycling, not only for their health, but also for the health of the city. Bicycles are the need of the hour across lanes and bylanes of the city under the Kolkata police’s jurisdiction. Zero restrictions and infrastructure support promoting cycling will help city residents to start commuting short distances using cycles, which will eventually pave the way for commuters to look at this as a recognised mode of transport. In the long run bicycles will help us stay fit, ensure we have fun, and also breathe clean air by cutting down on vehicular pollution,” she said.
Opinions from prominent people:
Prof. Saugata Roy, M.P: “I am all for cycles. I want cycles back on the roads of Kolkata. This would reduce pollution and save fuel. All over Europe, cycles are the new rage. Let cycles come back. Our party MPs went by cycle to Parliament on the first day of the Monsoon session.”
Dr. Dipankar Saha, Former Additional Director, Central Pollution Control Board: “Vehicular emissions in Kolkata are a significant contributor to deteriorating ambient air quality. The city needs dedicated infrastructure to support cycling such as a bicycle corridor to ensure that citizens focus on non-polluting mobility that improves one’s health and physical well being. No bicycle track should be constructed along vehicular lanes with busy traffic. As far as possible, bicycle lanes should be considered along the greens, forest etc which will definitely increase health criteria.”
Dr. Suman Mallick, Clinical Director, Chief of Radiation Oncology, Narayana Superspeciality Hospital: “Cycling is the smartest way for healthy living. It is the most economical way to protect our environment and our city from pollution. So to make our city more future ready, the best way is to promote cycling among all age groups.”
Ruskin Bond, Writer: “Cycles are making a comeback in cities across the world. They don’t pollute the atmosphere. They don’t cause traffic jams. We need them in Kolkata and every other town and cities”
T.V.Mohandas Pai, Chairman, Aarin Capital Partners: “The world over, cities are encouraging citizens to cycle, creating separate cycling lanes, to reduce pollution, improve health and quality of life. Climate change is the biggest threat to humanity globally and cities should lead in combating this. Kolkata should lead India in making cycling more popular, not perpetuate a feudal order focused on automobiles alone.”
Dunu Roy, Founder, Hazard Center Delhi: “The moment you replace the human on the pedal by a motor on the wheel, that moment the bicycle becomes a predator on nature and on society.”
About Us: Established in 2008, SwitchON Foundation is a multiple award winner, registered non-governmental organisation dedicated to work towards equitable and sustainable development. Over the past decade we have completed multiple projects with bilateral organisations and government agencies, incubated 3 social enterprises, setup the clean air network and solar water energy network across east India, 20 organic farmer producer companies and over 500 micro enterprises in pursuit of fulfilling our mission. We have tried to harness this potential of developing India by promoting social enterprises and rural entrepreneurs and creating self-sustaining ecosystems that are ready to scale – market led solutions to tackle some of the most pressing social issues of the day.