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From Dust Till Dawn – Air Pollution in Stuttgart and Mumbai

This story was a project for Stuttgart Media University (Hochschule der Medien) on the subject "Indians in Stuttgart".

Approximately every 200th inhabitant of Stuttgart is from India or has Indian roots - over 3,000 in total. Strongest migration drive: Global manufacturers, especially Daimler and Porsche.


The Swabian automotive corporations are popular employers within the Indian community in the Stuttgart area. Two-thirds of them have moved to Baden-Württemberg's state capital to take a job in the city or in the region - half of those work solely for Daimler.

And so for a company that is lately confronted with longtime deception of its customers: Daimler used illegal shut-off software ('defeat device') that led to the Dieselgate at Volkswagen in 2015. So did the Volkswagen subsidiary Porsche. Furthermore, Daimler and Porsche are accused of being part of a cartel of the five largest German car manufacturers which made illegal agreements for decades

What is particularly sad about those statutory violations is that it's not just about jobs, money and industrial policy, but also about the health of thousands of people. According to a US study, around 11,400 EU citizens died prematurely in 2015 due to non-compliance with diesel exhaust gas limits. Most of them among the lower income class, because the live in more polluted streets. Nevertheless, the German government is taking the load off from the carmakers. Thanks to ties to top-politicians, they are largely able to pull themselves out of the difficulties

Suddenly, Daimler and the others are presenting themselves as responsible and innovative manufacturers that rely on more sustainable business models than the environmentally damaging combustion engines. Especially important is the link to the Baden Württembergs's two Winfrieds - premier Winfried Kretschmann and transport minister Winfried Hermann of the state government.

Daimler's subsidiaries such as the car sharing service car2Go or the mobility app moovel move away from the classical car ownership towards the trend of sharing economy. By 2025, Daimler plans to invest 10 billion euros in electric cars.

"I think that innovative mobility initiatives promoted by Daimler and other manufacturers are only part of their Corporate Social Responsibility campaigns," says Prathap Nair, an Indian freelance journalist who lives in Schwieberdingen near Stuttgart.

"Those measures only try to boost their PR image. I still think auto manufacturers like Daimler are far from realizing a sustainable and environmentally friendly business model. Until that happens, there will be more vehicles with an internal combustion engine on our roads," he adds.

And to continue developing these cars, the manufacturers also rely on researchers and developers from India. "Many engineers who work for Daimler or Bosch are coming to Stuttgart from their facilities in India," says Nair. At the locations in India such as Chennai or Pune, luxury vehicles with large combustion engines are produced. The product range of Mercedes-Benz India includes sedans and SUVs, many of them with large displacement and diesel engines - the ones that are being debated whether they should get banned from the streets of Stuttgart or Munich.


In March, Nair wrote an article for the British newspaper Guardian about air pollution in Stuttgart and the initiatives of its citizens, as well as the political measures taken by city and state government. This was the first time the issue of "Feinstaub" (the common word used for particulate matter in Stuttgart) was reported in an international medium. It is somewhat ironic that it takes someone who lived for 38 years in the country with the world's highest fine dust strain to point out Stuttgart's problems - which is much lower than in India.

For Nair, who moved from Bangalore to Stuttgart in 2016, the air pollution in German cities is - compared to India - a small problem. For example, in Bangalore or Mumbai (Stuttgart's twin city) air pollution level is on average more than twice as high as in Stuttgart. 13 out of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are located in India. "Still, there are only a few initiatives against air pollution," says Nair. He thinks the Stuttgart citizens commitment against air pollution is therefore a good example for other cities.

But like many of Stuttgart's residents, there are also Mumbaikars (the residents of Mumbai) who do not want to be slowed down by the government's small efforts against air pollution and towards new mobility concepts. Too big is the disappointment by the industry, too big the lack of initiative of the policy. Thus, they start self-initiatives like protests or rallies.

And since a lot of traffic in India is made up by two or third wheelers, some owners of those vehicles upgrade their scooters and rickshaws. "E-mobility is one of the key themes for cities in India," says the smart city consultant Satyendra Singh from Stuttgart. "So some rickshaw owners start hacking and develop solar powered engines for their three wheelers," he explains.

There are even video tutorials explaining how to develop a battery for a rickshaw and retrofit the vehicle. "Nevertheless, not even one percent of the vehicles on the streets of Mumbai are equipped with an electric drive," the studied architect and environmental planner says. In Germany the number is also marginal. "At the same time, however, the number of cars with combustion engines is increasing massively in India," he adds.

The consequences are devastating on both sides of the planet. In Germany, more than 7,000 people die from nitrogen oxides - which are earmarked especially by diesel cars - every year "and in India the number is hundreds of times higher," says professor Joachim Betz from GIGA Institute of Asian Studies in Hamburg.

He also sees similarities between the high air pollution in the cities Mumbai and Stuttgart, although Mumbai is with over 18 million inhabitants thirty times bigger than Stuttgart. "A common feature is the topographical situation of the two cities: due to its location in the 'Talkessel' (Ed. Note: the name for the valley in which Stuttgart is located), Stuttgart has no ring road, which holds a large part of traffic from the city center. In Mumbai, it is similar: the city is located on a peninsula and extends from the south to the north, there is also no ring road," Betz explains. "In addition, verbal planning has progressed well in both cities: there is a lot of talk, but deeds must follow."


Singh sees further similarities: "Both cities have a growing population, density and economy, are thus over-industrialised and have been taking too long to operate with motor vehicles while the expansion of the footpaths and bicycle paths came too short. There must be a paradigm shift." Singh and Betz are therefore in agreement that both cities must restrict the operation of motor vehicles.

In a city like Stuttgart, which is also known as an Autostadt (car city) due to its local industry, such a plan will encounter massive resistance from automobile manufacturers, although they pretend to drive the change hand in hand with the city and state government.

"The city serves mobility" was the mantra of Stuttgart's infrastructure still in the 70s. And thus, the city was bypassed: six to ten lane streets like the Hauptstädter Straße or the Theodor-Heuss-Straße were built or expanded to provide the best infrastructure for the cars in the city; the city was subordinated to the car. The result: a lot of traffic, which would not need go through the city center, is run through there.

"The mobility serves the city" is the new mantra that the city has called out. Stuttgart plans to gradually reduce the number of cars. With 900,000 vehicles per day, Stuttgart has the highest frequency of vehicles that cross the city center - more vehicles than the almost six times more populous Berlin.

Singh sees feasible opportunities to implement plans for a more sustainable and more population-friendly city in Stuttgart: "Particularly three challenges should be addressed: reduce traffic jams along the main streets, expand public transport, and instead of driving bans, create new routes - for pedestrians and cyclists."

Generalization & Integration

But are - as currently suggested - only cars to blame? By far not. "Driving bans are an approach for better air, but also more sustainable approaches for all industries are needed. This applies in particular to construction, power generation and agriculture - but also to the household of each individual," Singh explains.

What he is striving for with his consulting agency are holistic approaches. "We are working on integrated solutions, ranging from renewable energy, water management to infrastructure and mobility." The customers are German and Indian companies and Singh promotes cooperation and tries to establish products and solutions on both markets as well as globally.

For example, he is working with Oizom, an French-Indian company, to provide measurement stations for air quality, which transmit data in real-time. "Monitoring air quality live helps us analysing the factors for air pollution and thus making the right decisions. Consequently, we can decide either one vehicle should be stopped or a major construction site is responsible for air pollution."

Especially in India there is a lack of useful and up-to-date data. This lack of data leads to a lack of decisions. And more problems follow. "There is a big deficit regarding norms for design and quality conditions for the mobility infrastructure," Singh says. "The whole transport management has to be modernised." This modernization failed mainly at institutional obstacles: "In Mumbai alone, 11 authorities are responsible for public transport, so you can imagine how fast processes are promoted in such a bureaucratisation," Betz adds.

Another problem is the cost of public transport in Mumbai and India in general: people from slums and the subterranean can not even afford a ticket for the metro. A ride through the city costs about 40 rupees, which is roughly 50 cents - the average daily wage of a worker in India is only 2 to 3 euros.

So we face another challenge: As long as you do not want to travel every distance on foot or by bicycle, you must be able to afford clean means of transport first and foremost. In Germany, even if public transport and, in particular, long-haul transport have their price, it is affordable for most people. In India however, the poor people can not afford public transport. They remain in the dust.