Iftikhar Khan

PESHAWAR: The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project in Peshawar is under immense criticism due to ill-planning and inordinate delay, while the claims made in its PC-1 about environment protection are unlikely to be materialised.

The PC-1 of the project claimed that about 31,000 tons emission of carbon dioxide will reduce from the city within one year of the completion of BRT project. However, environment specialists and even some government officials are sceptical about this claim. The PC-1 also said that public transport vehicles on the main road like busses and wagons will not be allowed to operate while people will also reduce the use of personal vehicles along the BRT route which will contribute the reduction in the carbon dioxide emission.

The Regional Transport Department says about 450 passenger vans and 350 small and large busses ply the main GT road in Peshawar. Environmentalists say even if the transport department and district administration fulfil their claims and remove all the public transport vehicles, reduction of pollution on such high level will not be possible.

The BRT project was inaugurated by former chief minister Pervaiz Khattak in October 2017 and he had claimed that the project would be completed within six months. However, the project remains incomplete even after 17 months. The initial cost of the project was estimated at Rs47 billion, but now the sources say the budget of the mega project has reached Rs66 billion.

Director General Peshawar Development Authority (PDA) Israrul Haq said while talking to TNN that 220 buses will be run in the BRT project which will provide transport facility to about 350,000 people. He said removal of passenger vehicles form the BRT route doesn’t mean that these vehicles will leave the city.

“It is expected that the passenger buses and wagons will change their routes after the BRT completion,” he said, adding that the 50-year-old vehicles are the main cause of pollution in the city.

The PDA chief says this project is being completed with the cooperation of Asian Development Bank (ADB) that is why environmental protection is being given much emphasis. He said public transport vehicles and cabs and rickshaws will also be reduced on the roads and roads will be kept clean for general vehicles.

The Regional Transport Authority (RTA) figures show there are about 22,000 registered rickshaws and 5,500 taxis in the city, while there are thousands other rickshaws and cabs which are unregistered. KP Traffic Police spokesman Rasheed Khan also endorses this fact and says about one lakh unregistered rickshaws and 15,000 unregistered cabs are plying different roads in the city and its suburbs. He said the unregistered vehicles are the major cause of traffic mess and pollution in the city. He is not very optimistic about reduction in pollution with BRT completion. He said the reduction of a few hundred vehicles from the main road will never bring a massive change in pollution. He said the situation will not improve until the removal of all illegal vehicles from the city.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in its report in 2016 had declared Peshawar the second most polluted city in the world. The report was prepared after a survey carried out from 2011 to 2015.

Chairman of Environmental Sciences Department of the University of Peshawar Dr Hizbullah said while talking to TNN that the environment of Peshawar was even more polluted during the last two years after the WHO report. He said the main reason behind this pollution is the ongoing work on BRT project. He said the traffic mess due to the project increases carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, while it is also contributing to noise pollution.

“Dust and smoke is visible all along the BRT route all the time which is very dangerous for the residents and commuters,” he said.

Dr Hizbullah said the ADB’s environmental protection standards are being staggeringly violated during the BRT construction. He said hundreds of trees, some of them hundreds of years old, have also been cut for the project which contributed to environmental degradation.

The unending construction work has affected the traffic wardens the most. Rasheed Khan said about 300 traffic policemen have been affected by lung diseases so far. The Traffic Police spokesman said they sent a letter to the PDA to make arrangements for the treatment of affected traffic wardens. He said the PDA initially agreed for the treatment of wardens, but now it is showing indifferent attitude.

The Peshawar High Court (PHC) had also taken notice of the pollution crated by the BRT and directed the PDA and EPA to monitor the project on daily basis.

The PDA DG said water was being sprinkled twice or thrice on daily basis on the construction sites and a report in this regard was also being submitted in the PHC on fortnightly basis. He said the trees were not cut, rather these were uprooted and planted at other sites in the city. He said only those trees were completely cut, which were not very suitable for the environment.

A senior official of the EPA said the main reason behind pollution in Peshawar is the smoke emission from vehicles and wastes released by the factories. He said the EPA has already initiated action in this regard and hoped that the BRT completion will reduce pollution.

However, Rasheed Khan believes that vehicles cannot be reduced in the city until all the bus stands are shifted outside the city. He said the BRT fares should be minimum so that people prefer travelling in these busses. “People will not travel in public transport if BRT fares are less and comfortable. It will help reduce traffic mess and pollution from the city,” he said.