Thursday, May 8, 2008

Nursery Admissions in Delhi

The Ganguly Committee Report has environmental, economic and social ramifications

There has been a huge uproar against the B.K.Ganguly Committee Report on school nursery admissions in Delhi. The committee was formed on the recommendation of the Delhi High Court on a petition against interviews of parents at the time of nusery admissions. The private school fraternity and many parents are not happy about it. But there is atleast one important point in the Report about which environmentalists should feel happy.

The section, which talks about giving maximum weightage to children staying nearest to the school- ‘the neighbourhood criteria’. Initially, there was maximum weightage for those staying within the 3 km radius and after protests the radius has been increased. Nevertheless, it makes a lot of sense, environmentally.

Its not difficult to find a school (private school) in a city, which does not have a school bus or doesn’t find jams outside it, when it begins or calls it a day. The reason - most of the students commuting to school use either the school bus/van etc or their private vehicles. With the ‘blue line fiasco’, failure of public tranport and increasing affluency among people, the number of parents or drivers dropping kids to school has increased in the top end schools (Are these the ones who are making noise?) The result is an increase in the number of traffic jams outside schools.

As transport planners have been saying, more number of people need to use mass transport. Because a bus carries more passengers than a car and occupies less space - hence there would be less traffic congestion if all people use public transport. Not a bad advise at all! It applies in the school scenario as well. More children need to use public or school bus rather than create jams outside by using their own cars.

But its not merely a traffic problem. A research by Central Institute of Road Transport, Pune, tells us that a car consumes nearly six times more energy per passenger per km than an average bus. Hence, it is not even recommended from the fuel economy point of view.

Importantly, the more the fuel consumption the more the emissions from a vehicle. So, the more number of people travel to school by fossil fuel based transport, the more their emissions and hence their contribution to global warming. As countries around the world are gearing up to fight global warming by reducing emissions, using personal cars at such a scale is certainly not recommended. The environmental bottomline would hence be to use mass transport and avoid traffic congestion and reduce emissions.

So, is that the final answer. Perhaps not! The most sustainable situation would be one in which the dependency on vehicular transport is done away with – People walk or cycle to school. No traffic congestion or emissions. Good! But how would someone from Gurgaon walk or cycle to Delhi?

And here comes the relevance of the Ganguly report. In present day, children travel enormous distances to reach their school and getting back. Not only does the fuel spent impact the environment through emissions, traffic jams, there are many unaccounted limitations. The time taken to travel eats on a child’s time to play. The child just reaches back home and starts doing his/her homework. Its stressful and has a negative impact on the child in general.

If only children staying close to the school are given admission by schools, perhaps most children would walk/cycle to school and there would be no need for those vehicles. The children would also have enough time to play. Even the Delhi Transportation Corporation buses used to ferry children can be used by those who need them more. Thus the ‘neighbourhood criteria’ of admission to school makes a lot of sense.

There have been arguments flying around as to “what will I do if there is no good school in my neighbourhood? I want good education for my kids.” There is only one answer to them. A school is made by its students. So, if good students (your children) study in the neighbourhood school, the school would automatically become good. And who knows good schools might spring up in all parts of the city.

Its hard to swallow that argument. But it would be interesting to draw inspiration from the process of implementation of CNG for public transport in India. Just think of the time when CNG was implemented in Delhi. The court gave a date by which CNG should be implemented. The government didn’t comply. How is it possible to convert to CNG it said?- there are no CNG stations in the city, private operators cannot convert etc etc. There were no buses for a few days and long queues of autos and buses outside the few CNG stations. People suffered for a few days. Perhaps months. There was tremendous chaos in Delhi.

But then the government had to act. CNG stations soon came up in all parts of the city and buses converted to CNG. There was peace, and life became normal as Delhi entered the world map as a city, which runs on clean fuel. We touched Euro 4 standards in terms of emissions. We leapfrogged and are now much much ahead of many western cities in terms of vehicular transport emissions. It was a bitter pill, which made Delhi’s air clean.

Ganguly Committee’s recommendation on neighbourhood is also a bitter pill. So, there may be some problem for sometime if this point of the report is accepted. But this pill will surely cure the city of unwanted traffic and emissions, and prevent a disaster. It will put us on a platform on which other cities might reach after years. It would be a leapfrog much ahead of many top cities in the world.

In fact, if this model is implemented in all the metros and urban centers of India- we would be saving tonnes of fossil fuels (and money) and a huge amount of unnecessary emissions. Moreover, it would have a good impact on the quality of life of children, who had earlier been traveling 2-3 hours each day to reach school.

Surely, of all the recommendations of Ganguly Committee, at least ‘the neighbourhood’ factor should certainly be implemented as it has far reaching environmental, economical and social ramifications.

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