Cause of con­cern

Air qual­ity around the Taj is much bet­ter now than it was 15 years ago. But res­pirable suspended par­tic­u­late mat­ter (RSPM) is still two times the per­mis­si­ble limit

Down to Earth - - THE FORTNIGHT -

tech­nol­ogy and en­vi­ron­ment to visit the Taj Ma­hal on April 10.The com­mit­tee pointed to black spots on the minarets flank­ing the mau­soleum,and asked the Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia (asi) to seek ex­pert ad­vice,if re­quired,to clean the mar­ble fac­ing.“We are con­cerned by news re­ports that the di­rec­tions of the Supreme Court for pre­serv­ing the Taj Ma­hal have not been com­plied with and the dis­coloura­tion of the mon­u­ment is a re­al­ity,”says Ash­wani Ku­mar,Ra­jya Sabha mem­ber and chair­per­son of the com­mit­tee. Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment who vis­ited the Taj are ex­pected to sub­mit a re­port to Par­lia­ment dur­ing the cur­rent bud­get ses­sion.

Pol­lu­tion puz­zle

But all this leaves cru­cial ques­tions unan­swered. Why is the Taj get­ting dis­coloured? What is the source of pol­lu­tion? In 1993, neeri blamed it on acid rain, which hap­pens when sul­phur diox­ide (SO2) and ni­tro­gen diox­ide (NO2) par­ti­cles in the air com­bine with fog droplets and wa­ter con­den­sa­tion.But the mea­sure­ment of pH value—to gauge the acid­ity or al­ka­lin­ity—of rain­wa­ter and the waste wa­ter af­ter wash­ing the Taj con­tra­dicted this the­ory.

As a re­sult,the court or­ders cul­mi­nated in the land­mark judge­ment of 1996 that di­rected the clo­sure of 292 small in­dus­tries,in­clud­ing 168 foundries,if they did not re­lo­cate or switch from coal and coke to cng, a cleaner fuel.The Mathura Oil Re­fin­ery, which started op­er­a­tions in 1982 and was found emit­ting high lev­els of SO2,was asked to switch to gas fuel.The or­der led to the clo­sure of most of the small in­dus­tries and al­most all foundries in Agra in 2001.The Mathura Re­fin­ery switched to cng in phases by 2005.

At the time of the judge­ment, the court’s prime con­cern was SO2 emis­sions, which, it feared, could lead to acid rain and dam­age the mar­ble sur­face of the mau­soleum.The judge­ment also noted that “soot in it­self is not harm­ful but that with tar it acts as a soil­ing agent”and that ab­sorp­tion of acidic gases is also en­hanced by the pres­ence of soot.The judge­ment quoted views of two for­eign ex­perts who said suspended par­tic­u­late mat­ter and dust were caus­ing the mar­ble to ap­pear yel­low.

Pursuant to court di­rec­tions, the Union gov­ern­ment and the Agra ad­min­is­tra­tion took a num­ber of steps to clean the air in the Taj Trapez­ium Zone. Now cng is the fuel of choice in the zone, no ve­hi­cles are al­lowed within half-a-kilo­me­tre of the Taj Ma­hal, and a green belt is un­der devel­op­ment around the mon­u­ment to fil­ter out pol­lu­tants.

The iit-Wis­con­sin-Ge­or­gia study sug­gests that it is not acid rain,but black and or­ganic car­bon that is the cause of the prob­lem.The source is in­com­plete com­bus­tion. Black car­bon comes from diesel ve­hi­cles and brick kilns, and or­ganic car­bon from biomass burning.This would mean that the or­ders of the Supreme Court that would have re­duced pol­lu­tion from th­ese sources have not

been im­ple­mented or that there is some­thing new and dif­fer­ent that needs to be ad­dressed. Al­ready, based on this study and a lit­tle more in­for­ma­tion, the city ad­min­is­tra­tion is rush­ing to close down petha (sweet made from ash gourd) units as th­ese use coal and wood (see ‘Man v mon­u­ment’, p42). Is this go­ing to be the so­lu­tion? Is this even the prob­lem?

Key in­di­ca­tors down

In 2000, the Supreme Court had di­rected the Cen­tral Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board (cpcb) to set up four mon­i­tor­ing sta­tions to check am­bi­ent air pol­lu­tion.By 2013,the city added four more sta­tions, in­clud­ing one op­er­ated by asi in the Taj Ma­hal com­plex and three by the Ut­tar Pradesh Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board.

neeri has an­a­lysed pol­lu­tion data for the past nine years in its De­cem­ber 2013 re­port on a com­pre­hen­sive en­vi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment plan for the Taj Trapez­ium.

It has found dra­matic re­duc­tion in key pol­lu­tants SO2 and NO2 at the Taj Ma­hal be­tween 2002 and 2012.The big­gest dif­fer­ence is seen af­ter 2005,when cng was in­tro­duced in the city.The level of PM10 at the Taj was sig­nif­i­cantly lower than at Nun­hai, an industrial area out­side the city, but was still two times the per­mis­si­ble stan­dard of 60 μg/ m3 (see ‘Cause of con­cern’, p29).

In other words,pol­lu­tion has def­i­nitely re­duced in the city and more im­por­tantly,the lev­els are much lower in the vicin­ity of the mon­u­ment.Now the ques­tion is whether th­ese lev­els of par­tic­u­late emis­sions are suf­fi­ciently high to cause dis­coloura­tion of the mar­ble.It is known that black car­bon and or­ganic car­bon are a frac­tion of the par­tic­u­late mat­ter.

Clearly,the mon­u­ment of love needs some more at­ten­tion and care from us.We need to know the real cause of the prob­lem so that the real an­swers can be found.

Supreme Court

had or­dered ad­e­quate drains and sew­er­age in Agra but only 17 per cent of the city is cov­ered by sew­er­age


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