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As Chandigarh adds 120 new vehicles a day, the big debate: Does city need a Metro?

Those opposed to Metro fear it might ruin the aesthetics of the city designed by Le Corbusier; others say it's only way to tackle burgeoning traffic

During the last decade, Chandigarh has witnessed a steep growth in the number of private vehicles on the road, leading to an increase in air pollution and prompting the city administration to revive the plan to build a Metro rail in the city. (Representational image)

Chandigarh is split down the middle over a proposal to build a Metro corridor to decongest the city’s roads and reduce vehicular pollution.

Those opposing the Metro fear that the project might ruin the city’s aesthetics, including its impeccable design and planning conceived by French architect Le Corbusier. Residents and politicians on the other side say the burgeoning traffic will eventually choke the roads of Chandigarh, turning their commute into a nightmare.

During the last decade, Chandigarh has witnessed a steep growth in the number of private vehicles on the road, leading to an increase in air pollution and prompting the city administration to revive the plan to build a Metro rail in the city.

The Rail India Technical and Economic Service (RITES), a subsidiary of the Indian Railways providing transport consultancy, prepared a report in 2009 on the traffic situation in Chandigarh and suggested that the city needed a Metro project.

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Based on the RITES report, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) made a detailed project report (DPR) in 2012 for building a Metro corridor in Chandigarh.

The initial project cost, including the cost of land and taxes, was estimated to be around Rs 10,900 crore. A 37-km Metro track was proposed for the city, while a track length of 7.8 km was planned for the areas of Punjab and Haryana adjacent to Chandigarh, and a 6.41-km route for Panchkula.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was also signed between Haryana, Punjab and the UT administration, but the Union Home Ministry finally rejected the project in 2017 stating that it was not financially feasible “as the government will not be able to recover even the original cost of the project.”

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During a meeting of the Administrator’s Advisory Council held last month, two senior BJP leaders – former MP Satyapal Jain and the party’s state president Sanjay Tandon – proposed that the Metro Rail project should be revived again due to the city’s worsening traffic condition and air quality. The idea was opposed by Kirron Kher, the BJP MP from Chandigarh who has been against the project since 2014 saying she “cannot let Chandigarh be uprooted.”

To have or not to have a Metro Rail

After procrastinating for years, the Chandigarh administration again asked RITES last year to conduct a study on traffic congestion in the city. In its latest report, RITES repeated its earlier suggestion of building a Metro rail to decongest city roads and specified 64 kilometres of network to cater to the demand of commuters on major routes.

RITES has also proposed setting up a Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA) to ensure coordination among various stakeholders, and to formulate and implement major schemes and initiatives to improve the traffic situation and mobility in the city.

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Some city experts, however, say Chandigarh needs an intelligent and smart public bus system rather than a Metro project.

Professor Ajay Duggal, an expert from the National Institute of Technical Teachers Training Research (NITTTR), said: “The Metro is viable only on routes which have a minimum length of 30 to 40 km. “If you calculate the time it takes to complete a journey, it includes the time taken to reach the metro station (from home/office), the wait period, the journey period and then the destination. For up to 10 km, boarding a Metro may consume more time than commuting by one’s own vehicle,” he said.

Duggal also said the Metro project would end up damaging the city’s aesthetics. “It can even result in damage to buildings due to excavation during construction, and vibrations due to metro operations. The vibration causes settlement of soil,” he said.

Duggal suggested that the best way to ease traffic congestion in Chandigarh is to shift from personal vehicles to public transport.

“We must look at having small-sized public transport vehicles like mini buses or tempo travellers operating with high frequency,” he said.

CHOKING TRAFFIC & VEHICULAR POLLUTION

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With almost 120 vehicles being registered in the city every day, Chandigarh has the highest vehicle density in the country.

Data from the city’s Registering and Licensing Authority reveals that since 2012, about 4.70 lakh vehicles, including cars, motorcycles and scooters, have been registered in Chandigarh without suitably augmenting its road network and infrastructure.

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The city witnessed a massive jump in car registrations post 2020. In 2021, as businesses and offices started reopening after the Covid lockdown, 20,249 cars and 16,315 motorcycles/scooters were registered in Chandigarh, taking the total non-transport vehicle registrations to 36,564. The number for 2020, when Covid restrictions were in place, stood at 14,239 cars and 14,973 scooters/motorcycles.

This year, at least 38,702 vehicles have been registered till date, of which 21,466 are cars and 17,236 scooters/bikes.

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A state environment report released in 2017 cited Chandigarh’s high vehicle density – 878 per 1,000 people – as one of the major reasons behind the city’s poor air quality.

The Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM) was reported to be higher than the permissible limit then. The report cautioned that owing to the steady increase in the number of vehicles every year, NO2 levels in the city were also rising.

Another report by the Centre for Science and Environment, released in 2018, said that the use of personal vehicles was the highest in Chandigarh among 14 cities that were analysed on “overall emissions and energy use” and “per-travel trip emissions.”

The report stated: “Every time a trip is made in Chandigarh, where the per capita car ownership is the highest, it is likely to have a much worse impact on the environment than in the megacities of Kolkata and Mumbai, which have the best public transport systems in the country. This is worrisome, as Chandigarh is already a Tricity, with Chandigarh-Panchkula-Mohali forming a large urban agglomeration where travel patterns are likely to be similar.”

The report cautioned that “the Tricity may become an extremely polluted place in the years to come if corrective steps are not taken in time.”

It said: “In Chandigarh, the ownership of cars per 1,000 people is among the highest in the country. Cities like this will have to be extremely careful about enabling massive scaling up of sustainable modes.”

Car and motorcycle registrations in Chandigarh in the last 10 years

Year Cars Motorcycles/scooters
2012 26,162 24, 655
2013 19,628 17, 731
2014 17,731  27, 718
2015 17,600 26, 743
2016 17,421   26, 784
2017 18,126 28, 436
2018 17,393 28, 085
2019 18,231 25, 841
2020 14,239 14, 973
2021 20,249 16, 315
2022 (Till date) 21,466                 17, 236              

Nine busiest choke points in Chandigarh

The RITES report has suggested building underpasses at nine out of fifteen choke points of the city.

The nine choke points are Housing Board chowk (Chandigarh-Panchkula marg), Chandigarh Railway station road which is Chandigarh Panhckula road junction, Tribune chowk (Purv marg-Dakshin marg junction), ISBT 17 Chowk (Himalaya Marg-Udyog path Junction), secor 46/47D chowk that is Vikas Marg-chandi path junction, Gurudwara chowk (Sukhna path-Dakshin marg junction), Transport chowk (Purv marg- Madhya marg junction), Press chowk (Himalaya marg-Madhya marg junction) and Kisan Bhawan chowk (Dakshin marh-Jan marg junction) .

Busiest bus corridors identified by RITES

* PGIMER-Zirakpur bus stand — 17 km

* PGIMER – Bus stand in Sector 5, Panchkula — 12 km

* ISBT-43 to New Chandigarh (Mullanpur) — 21 km

* ISBT-43 to Mansa Devi Complex — 16 km

* ISBT-43 to Bus stand in Sector 5, Panckula — 16 km

ISBT-17 –Kharar bus stand — 19 km

Suggested solution: Reduction of stoppages on these corridors.

Share of private vehicles at key junctions of city: 79 to 90%

Share of buses at key junctions: 0.4 to 2.6%

First published on: 08-12-2022 at 17:26 IST
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