Few monuments have as much an association with this city as that of the Victoria Memorial Hall. The magnificent marble structure is nearly a hundred year old, but with the sprawling gardens it is one of the city’s best-loved heritages.
It is also where the health-seekers throng early every morning to take in the sights and breathe in some fresh air in a city which has become notorious for its noxious air quality.
Men, women and children stroll around the lawns and some even strike yogic poses on the lawns. But recent studies have found that the quality of the air that they breathe while doing so may be much, much worse than their neighboured parks.
On an average about 25,000 people visit the Victoria Memorial Hall daily and there are about 3,000 walkers.
It has been found that between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. the suspended particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide level in the air there is way beyond permissible levels. The SPM level is double the permissible limit while the nitrogen dioxide level is 25 per cent in excess, studies have revealed.
This comes as little surprise.
When the Victoria Memorial Hall was conceived in early last century (it was opened in 1921), it was an oasis of green. Just opposite was the Royal Calcutta Turf Club – a vast expanse of green, which was opened in 1821 for holding horse races. It is billed as one of the largest such tracks in the country.
To this day, there are few buildings around, although some towers are coming up altering the skyline somewhat. However, what has tipped the scale for air quality is the increased flow of traffic on this corridor.
On the western flank of the monument is a major connecting road for vehicular traffic going towards the western parts and also southern parts of the city. A two km long flyover zipping past the southern gate has also contributed to increased flow of traffic.
Add to that the poor upkeep of the monument, which is under the Union Culture Ministry, and the emerging picture is far from perfect.
However, over the past few years measures, egged on by environmentalists and under directions given by the judiciary, action has been taken — like making it a no-parking zone and making the gardens plastic free.
Air quality has worsened due to heavy vehicular traffic around the open space