A file photo shows an inspector of DMP's pollution patrol checking emission level of a two-stroke auto-rickshaw in the city.Despite repeated pledges by the government to phase out more than 70,000 autorickshaws with two-stroke engines greatly contributing to environment pollution in the city, little has been done so far in this regard.
Sources concerned said the Communications Ministry is sitting idle over a proposal on phasing out the three wheelers. It is unlikely to take 'any step' to reduce the number of these vehicles before the coming general elections.
According to plans, the city is supposed to be free of all vehicles with two-stroke engines by 2005. If the plans were implemented, one third of all autorickshaws in the city would have been phased out by now, sources in Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) said.
More than 70,000 autorickshaws, all spewing toxic hydrocarbon through two-stroke engines, contribute greatly to the rapidly deteriorating air quality in the capital, widely known as one of the most polluted cities in the world. Of the autorickshaws, 35,000 are registered and the rest are plying with forged documents, BRTA sources said.
Although import of autorickshaws has remained banned since June 30 last year, environmentalists and BRTA officials fear that these could not be phased out from the city in the foreseeable future. The more time it takes to replace these polluting vehicles, the aging fleet of the three wheelers will do more harm to the city's environment, exposing citizens to various health hazards, experts said.
According to BRTA plans, all autorickshaws on the basis of their date of manufacture and registration would be phased out by 2005. The Chairman of BRTA said at a recent meeting that 'obsolete' autorickshaws would be sent to places outside Dhaka.
But BRTA's plan to send the old fleet of these vehicles to small towns has drawn strong criticism from environmentalists. Many of them said that if sent outside Dhaka, these vehicles would pollute new areas and also cause new problems.
Environmentalists noted that more than two lakh people make their living from autorickshaws in the city. To send them out is not possible. The government has to chalk out a rehabilitation programme for them.
The authorities should offer soft loans to autorickshaw owners through consortiums to convert these vehicles to run on Compressed Natural Gas or battery, they suggested.
"In Kathmandu, the authorities have greatly improved air quality by launching conversion schemes and turning almost all two-stroke engine vehicles into battery operated taxis," an environmentalist said.
According to officials in the Department of Environment (DoE), air in the city has become so polluted that because of this thousands of men, women and children are suffering from various diseases including cancer, high blood pressure, pulmonary complications, gastrointestinal and skin disorder.
"In addition to autorickshaws, hundreds of unfit government vehicles, buses, tempos and overloaded trucks are responsible for fast deterioration of the environment," one official said.
BRTA should implement the plans to phase out autorickshaws. Otherwise, the situation would worsen, he added
Source: The Daily Star, 10 June,2001