The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) was launched by the Indian government in 2005 to fund urban renewal projects in Indian cities. As part of this initiative, the EPCA (Environment Pollution (Control and Prevention) Authority), the Supreme Court’s pollution monitoring body, met representatives from eight major (and ‘critically polluted’) cities to discuss the conditions stipulated by the JNNURM. The economic package in question would allow cities to avail of JNNURM funds in order to promote public transport and decrease urban pollution.
As of now In India, most cities suffer from ineffective public transport. Apart from the Mumbai local train network and the Delhi metro system (which are very overcrowded) most cities rely on taxis or autorikshaws which, although expensive, are the popular choice of transport. Most people, as soon as they can afford to, get around on their own car or two wheeler : don’t forget that around 1000 cars are added to the streets of New Delhi everyday and the cheap Nano is all set to hit the Indian streets soon. The Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi offers astounding statistics: out of 73 million vehicles in India in 2004, only 768,000 were buses, despite them accounting for over 50% of the journeys.
It is interesting, therefore, that the government is attempting to aggressively overhaul the public transport system. The EPCA views the JNNURM’s funds as “an opportunity to reinvent mobility” as they demand cities increase the number of buses plying the streets and that they conform to strict environmental standards.
Delhi has been fairly successful in the past at improving the environmental standards of its transport system. Most autorickshaws and buses use CNG these days, and there has been a marked reduction in the city’s pollution levels. More difficult to change will be the tax system that disincentives public transport. The CSE and the EPCA point out the strong disparity between taxes on public and private transport: the tax burden on public buses is two and a half times greater (per km) than the burden on cars. They strongly urge shifting the burden onto private transport, but with the motor industry flagging during the recession, will the government be able to push through such reforms?