By Meghaa Gangahar
In order meet the transportation needs of the dynamic population, cities end up leaving behind an elephantine carbon footprint. New policy initiatives have sprung to encourage climate friendly and sustainable public transport systems. In November 2016 a new scheme materialised when the four-day Urban Mobility India Conference and Expo concluded in Gandhinagar.
During the conference, the Minister of Urban Development – Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu – introduced the new Green Urban Transport Scheme. The scheme emerged with an aim to etch a low Carbon track for the growth of urban transport. The minister informed that the scheme would also provide a sustainable framework for funding urban mobility projects at National, State and City levels.
The Green Scheme: A necessity
India’s fast-paced growth is accompanied by an equally rapid expansion of urban areas. However, what overtakes the urbanisation is the increase in the concentration of population in the existing urban areas. This places the urban cities in an overcrowded quagmire of smoke and dust.
The mobility scheme will stimulate investments in sustainable public transport systems like metro rail, non-motorised transport and other low carbon emitting systems. Urban development initiatives such as Smart Cities Mission and Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) will also integrate the scheme, especially the aspect of Non-Motorised Transportation. Promotion of cleaner technologies such as electric and hybrid vehicles as well as the adoption of Intelligent Transport System (ITS) are other features of the scheme.
Increased infrastructural development
The first phase of the scheme will cover the Indian cities having a population of five lacs and above. To promote Non-Motorised Transport such as walking and cycling, the government has laid out a plan to provide the requisite infrastructure in these cities.
The plan includes constructing 8,000km of pavements and laying more cycle tracks in 106 cities in the next five years.
In addition, the scheme seeks to cover 1,300km of bus rapid transit (BRT) corridors with dedicated fast lanes for buses and set up 500 new bus depots. The centre will set up a National Green Urban Mobility Fund (NGUMF) which will channelise 60 per funds from the central government and other agencies. An initial central assistance of Rs. 25,000 crore is expected to stir up further private funding.
Regulations and Complications
In February 2017, the finance ministry finally gave the scheme a green flag. This may lead to a government-led investment of up to Rs.80, 000 crore in Metro trains, electric vehicles and non-fossil fuel. However, the deployment of funds is expected to take place after completion of individual projects. This will ensure a timely and efficient implementation. Unless proper rules and regulations are in place, the centre’s willingness to finance the project would be low. To facilitate a flow of funds – states have to implement parking policy, adopt street vendor regulation norms, have a policy to prevent encroachments and also have an urban transport fund.
These requirements trigger their own complications. Regulating street vendors and preventing encroachments would displace a huge number of people. These small but several road-side enterprises form the backbone of a thriving informal urban economy. When these people lose their means of employment, a significant portion of the urban poor will suffer a setback. The impact can be minimised only by creating alternative new jobs in the organised sector of the economy, which is yet another challenge.
The need for a holistic approach
The viability of NMT depends on the holistic planning of the urban space. To ensure proper mobility and sustainability in urban areas, the basic layout needs to be appropriate, and necessary infrastructure in place.
This calls for proper land-use zoning, development control and building regulations in cities.
For instance, if the workplace, markets and living spaces are organised and well-connected, NMT becomes an attractive option. In the words of Shri Naidu, the aim of urban transport planning should be towards “moving people instead of moving cars”.