Let’s go green, writes Raveena Tandon Thadani

Mumbai, Raveena Tandon: I’ve started cycling to my gym every morning instead of taking the car, the past few months. The minute I leave my home, I get these curious stares from the students studying in the college opposite my house. Their befuddled expressions reading out, “Is this her way of handling a mid-life crisis?”

Raveena Tandon Thadani

Some people exchange their old cars for the latest sports convertible, some exchange their older wives for a younger new model, some women get a new fancy younger-looking haircut, while some men prefer to go bald/weave new hair to do away with thinning hair.

I get myself a shiny new bicycle. I love the breeze on my face and the little bit of sun. I’m humbly humming along my way, like a scene from Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. I only wish these roads would magically transform into open golden fields. Cycling back and forth the stretch on Carter Road is what I enjoy most; all the early morning regulars out on their walks, breathing in the cool, early morning breeze. At the club, I see this old, happy uncle totally at peace with himself, exposing his coconut-oiled naked body, doing a serious asana, sitting on the ledge, by the sea soaking in the sun and doing his pranayama.

But the early morning air we are inhaling is the worst in terms of pollution as Mumbai is a coastal city and studies have shown that most of the ships, steamers and fishing boats passing through mostly at night, give out the maximum carbon emission,which hangs heavily in the atmosphere mixed with various other pollutants.

Smog is all you see early in the mornings. So all these people going out for their early morning walks, is where the smog has already accumulated and are actually inhaling that whole smog in.

Luckily for us, though, we are still better off than cities like Delhi as the coastal winds actually also help disperse this smog faster. So I really don’t know how helpful these early morning walks are. Delhi and Beijing are known to be the world’s most-polluted capitals, but Delhi actually has a higher count of smog or pollution than Beijing, which is on red alert right now.

The recent drive on odd and even cars on the roads of Delhi seem to be grabbing eyeballs and headlines. Wish it was all for the right reasons though. Social media is awash with jokes on CM Arvind Kejriwal and his odd-even numbered car scheme.

Give the man a break, yaar! I would still congratulate him for actually trying something. It’s a step somewhere. Though this attempt has failed when implemented earlier. China, Colombia and Mexico (in 1989, where it initially did work,reducing pollution by nearly 11%, but then like Twitter’s satirical suggestions, people actually started buying two cars, with odd an even number, two cheap cars, etc. Soon the number of cars on the roads increased and the pollution levels rose by 13%.

Mumbai was warned over a decade ago by a committee set up by the Bombay High Court to cut down on one in every five vehicles on the road. But, despite this warning, the State Government is yet to implement any policy to give the committee’s recommendation effect. Strict rules should be implemented. Yes, it is radical. Yes, you will get criticism. But first and foremost, improve public transport, connectivity, encourage carpooling and give people alternatives before curbing the use of cars.

For this, there has to be strong political will, heavy taxes imposed on buying cars instead of making them cheaper. Singapore as a city has the highest taxes, for those buying cars. Buying a car there is as expensive as buying an apartment in Mumbai. including registration fees, vehicle tax ERPs and road taxes, etc. It is basically a way to discourage people from buying and using that many cars, which we can easily take the example and do here.

I also believe that each family of four should not get permission for more than two cars. There is no place to park them. Mumbai, as a city, has grown like cancer all around where there is traffic congestion and no space for parking. Phase out trucks and cars that are over 15 years old.

In Singapore, cars older than three to 10 years are inspected once in two years. Cars older than 10 years must be inspected every year. Heavy fines are imposed if found at fault. Delegate more car-free zones in the city.

And yes, to fight back the pollution, plant more trees. They are supposed to be the best air purifiers. Grow them round your buildings, homes, etc. Demarcate bicycle lanes adjoining the roads, stop overdevelopment of the cities.

More apartment blocks and buildings, more the cars. We need to leave more open spaces.

Change has to start somewhere. Slowly and steadily, we can build towards a better environment… or in the future, as I see it.. when there are no more trees to cut, no more oxygen to breathe, we will realise, we can’t inhale and live on the scent of money…