17 days in June recorded ‘high’ dust pollution in Delhi

Spot checks across Delhi reveal CPCB norms being flouted by govt. agencies; dust control measures not being enforced

On the morning of June 11, the city’s pollution levels touched ‘severe’ category for a while and at 3 p.m., a message by a government pollution monitoring agency read: “Delhi is experiencing widespread dust lifting from 3 a.m., which is purely locally generated…”

An analysis of government-run System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) data from June 1-29 showed that local dust lifting was ‘high’ for 17 days, ‘moderate’ for two days and ‘low’ for 10 days. High and moderate are considered unfavourable for air quality.

The Hindu found that different measures to control dust — a major cause of air pollution during summer — are not properly being enforced by multiple government agencies.

Spot checks on 12 locations in North, South and East Delhi showed that dust control measures, including proper maintenance of pavements, covering construction materials and sand, were not being implemented. Also, construction debris that contributes to dust, was found dumped on the roads all these areas. Dust control norms were flouted at over six construction sites, including government works.

On June 19, the Lieutenant-Governor had directed different agencies to take action on “illegal dumping” of construction and demolition (C&D) waste. This, however, is yet to materialise.

Secretary at Department of Environment Sanjeev Khirwar said, “The land owning agencies such as PWD and civic bodies have to implement the dust control measures and they can impose fines. But if any specific case is pointed out, we will forward it them for action.”

Harmful effects

On one June afternoon, 59-year-old Pramod Singh, selling lemonade on the road between Moti Bagh and South Campus metro stations, stood next to a four-feet-high mound of soil. The road was dug up and any vehicle passing through the stretch kicked dust.

Kam se kam 100g mitti andhar jaati he [at least 100g of dust goes inside the body daily],” Mr. Singh said, adding, “When there is a traffic jam, the dust will increase and you won’t be able to stand here. After work, I go home and eat a piece of jaggery.”

Dust contributes to fine inhalable particles called Particulate Matter (PM), which can get into the lungs and even into the bloodstream and cause health problems. “PM can lead to lung and heart diseases, including asthma, bronchitis and heart attacks,” said a senior consultant at Sri Ganga Ram Hospital Ashwani Mehta. “An increasing number of people in Delhi are suffering nasal allergies also due to dust,” he added. World’s top 14 most-polluted cities are in India with Delhi taking the sixth position, states the World Health Organization. Air pollution has been linked to lung cancer, stroke, and heart disease.

During summer, dust from soil, road, and construction is responsible for 38% of the total PM 2.5 and 42% of PM 10 in Delhi, according to a 2018 study by the Energy Resource Institute (TERI) and Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI), which has been quoted in Parliament documents.

Dust pollution is mainly from two sources: the road from where dust gets kicked up in the air, especially from streets that dug up or not asphalted. Second is from construction activities where dust control measures are not being followed and waste is dumped in the open.

Ground reality

The road between Moti Bagh and South Campus metro stations has been dug up for laying a pipeline. Mounds of earth and construction debris are left at multiple points along the road and there is mud even on the pavements.

“Use covering sheets [plastic, tarpaulin, etc] on a construction material heap that are easily airborne. Also, use them on C&D debris that is dumped at temporary storage [construction] sites,” states Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) guidelines for dust control issued in November 2017.

The road between Rajendra Place and Karol Bagh metro stations also suffers a similar fate.

Standing next to a mound of dug up earth, 36-year-old Moti Lal, who drives a rented e-rickshaw, said: “If they can dig this up night, why are they not fixing it? Who will fix it now?”

On more than a dozen locations, construction debris was found to dumped illegally on busy roads and even under a board erected by PWD in Vande Mataram Road, which reads: “Dumping of waste or construction debris here is strictly prohibited.” The situation was no different at construction sites. Near AIIMS, there are over six-feet-high mounds of soil as the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) is constructing a fountain along the road. Some children were seen playing near it. “Sand and other fine aggregates should be stored in demarcated areas and given a covering,” reads the CPCB guideline.

Two other works by Delhi Jal Board and one by the PWD were seen to not follow the dust control measures. The NDMC and DJB did not respond to these queries.

At all these sites, workers were not seen wearing masks which is mandatory as per CPCB guidelines.

Mohammad Masum (22) from Bihar and his friends were demolishing a two-storey house in south Patel Nagar without any boots or safety masks.

“When I cough, the sputum has mitti [mitti] in it,” he said, adding that he gets cough almost once every month. “For seven years I have been working but I have got a mask only twice.”

Steps to be taken

“There is a lot of exposed earth across Delhi and dust control measures are mostly not enforced. Also, C&D waste is dumped in wetlands, roads, and drains in Delhi. This dust is more toxic than the road dust,” said head of ‘Clean Air’ programme at Centre for Science and Environment, Delhi Anumita Roychowdhury.

“The rules have to be implemented,” she added. Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority Chairman Bhure Lal said currently C&D waste is being dumped across the city and strong action is needed against it. “It should be recycled,” he said. “Proper sweeping and greening of roads and medians will help to reduce local dust lifting. Also, the implementation of existing rules is lacking,” said Polash Mukerjee, head of air pollution and climate resilience at Natural Resources Defense Council, a US-based environmental advocacy group.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 8:35:14 AM |

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