City a dust bowl, os­trich ap­proach to blame

OUTER RING ROAD | NHAI MAYUR VI­HAR | PWD RANI JHANSI ROAD | NORTH COR­PO­RA­TION Ac­counts For 38% Of PM2.5 Emis­sion, But Con­trol Norms Largely Ig­nored

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - TIMES CITY | CAPITAL CHOKE - Mayank Manohar & Risha Chit­langia Con­struc­tion and de­mo­li­tion Ve­hi­cles In­dus­trial stack Con­crete batch­ing Oth­ers Oth­ers Con­struc­tion and de­mo­li­tion In­dus­trial stack Do­mes­tic

New Delhi: Be­side a hillock of dry earth near Azad Mar­ket, work is on to fin­ish the much-de­layed con­struc­tion of Rani Jhansi Road fly­over. As work­ers scurry around, they raise clouds of dust, which as­cend and join the grey clouds hang­ing heavy over the city for the past 10 days.

Se­vere pol­lu­tion forced the au­thor­i­ties to im­pose emer­gency mea­sures such as halt­ing all heavy con­struc­tion and call­ing for strict dust con­trol. De­spite the open vi­o­la­tion of these norms, Preety Agar­wal, mayor of the North Delhi Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion, owner of the Rani Jhansi project, claimed that no con­struc­tion was go­ing on. Rather disin­gen­u­ously, Agar­wal said, “The work­ers are only putting to­gether the seg­ments of the fly­over.”

This sort of care­less re­sponse to the pol­lu­tion cri­sis was vis­i­ble across the city on Tues­day. The dust con­trol norms laid down in EPCA’s Com­pre­hen­sive Ac­tion Plan and the Graded Re­sponse Ac­tion Plan were be­ing mer­rily flouted de­spite the se­verely com­pro­mised air. Road dust, ac­cord­ing to an IIT-Kan­pur study, is the main source of ur­ban pol­lu­tion, mak­ing up 56% of coarse PM10 pol­lu­tants and 38% of the dan­ger­ous, res­pirable PM2.5 par­ti­cles. The steps pre­scribed in­cluded veg­e­ta­tion bar­ri­ers on roads and in­creased green cover, mech­a­nised sweep­ing of roads, reg­u­lar damp­en­ing of loose soil at con­struc­tion sites and ces­sa­tion of all con­struc­tion in dire sit­u­a­tions. Un­for­tu­nately, there is nei­ther re­gret nor fear of pun­ish­ment about these omis­sions.

On NH-24, where NHAI has du­ti­fully halted the work to widen the roads in com­pli­ance with the di­rec­tions of the Na­tional Green Tri­bunal, mounds of soil and de­bris lay un­cov­ered in iron­i­cal re­pu­di­a­tion of the green panel’s at­tempt to pre­vent dust adding to the crop-burn­ing soot and other pol­lu­tants. The stretch near In­draprastha Park was dis­mally unat­tended too, nei­ther cov­ered nor damp­ened.

A se­nior NHAI of­fi­cial glibly claimed all con­trac­tors have been asked to take the manda­tory pre­cau­tions to pre­vent dust pol­lu­tion. “If there are any re­ports that the norms are not be­ing fol­lowed, we will act im­me­di­ately,” the of­fi­cial said.

For its part, PWD has bar­ri­caded the site of a fly­over on UP Link Road near Mayur Vi­har only on one side, leav­ing the other open to show earth and de­bris ly­ing un­cov­ered. At Mayur Vi­har Phase 1, res­i­dents com­plained of ex­cess dust due to the erec­tion of a Delhi Metro in­ter­change sta­tion. The con­struc­tion site ap­peared to have been wa­tered, but the colony roads were lined by heaps of dry soil. An of­fi­cial’s re­sponse: “Con­struc­tion has stopped and we sprin­kle wa­ter on the dust twice a day.”

The mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are no bet­ter. In New Friends Colony, road dig­ging has left open hills of earth on the sides. “For months now, we have com­plained to SDMC about the dust pol­lu­tion, but no one pays any at­ten­tion,” com­plained B M Bak­shi, pres­i­dent, New Friends Colony RWA. Bak­shi’s coun­ter­part in Greater Kailash I, M K Gupta, had a sim­i­lar grouse: “Con­struc­tion ac­tiv­i­ties were sup­posed to have been stopped, but work is go­ing on in Block S.”

Me­chan­i­cal/vac­uum-based street sweep­ing Sta­tus PWD

No. of me­chan­i­cal road sweep­ers used 4 (ten­ders floated for 11 more in Oct); 3 cor­po­ra­tions: 19; NDMC: 3 No proper plan to dis­pose of the waste (largely dust) col­lected by the ma­chines

Main­tain pot­hole-free roads for free flow of traf­fic to re­duce emis­sions, dust Sta­tus Sprin­kle re­cy­cled wa­ter; in­tro­duce wa­ter foun­tains at ma­jor traf­fic in­ter­sec­tions Sta­tus

As part of the emer­gency mea­sure, wa­ter tankers de­ployed to sprin­kle wa­ter on road­sides In­crease green cover

Agen­cies have failed to main­tain green­ery along ar­te­rial roads; most cen­tral verges not main­tained and road­sides un­paved

Sta­tus

The PWD cur­rently has only four me­chan­i­cal road sweep­ers and the three mu­nic­i­pal cor­po­ra­tions, 19. There are prom­ises from both the agency on ac­quir­ing more ma­chines, but sweep­ing roads is one thing, get­ting rid of the dust quite an­other. The north and east cor­po­ra­tions claimed to be dump­ing the dust at land­fills or waste plant and the south body as­sured it was us­ing waste com­pactors for the pur­pose. But as San­jay Puri at Janakpuri re­mon­strated, “The ma­chines fre­quently empty the waste on road­sides.” Puri, who has com­plained to lieu­tenant gov­er­nor Anil Bai­jal about this, asked, “What is the point of sweep­ing the roads if the dust is not dis­posed of in a proper man­ner?” An SDMC of­fi­cial only had this to say: “We will look into the mat­ter and take ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion.”

An­u­mita Roy­chowd­hury, head of Cen­tre for Sci­ence and En­vi­ron­ment's Right to Clean Air Cam­paign, said that the fo­cus had to move to long-term mea­sures to con­trol dust. “While vac­u­um­ing of roads and wa­ter­ing trees work in the short term, we need to think also of paving roads and cre­at­ing veg­e­ta­tion bar­ri­ers on the road,” she said.

The civic au­thor­i­ties are pro­mot­ing green­ery un­der fly­overs and along roads and cen­tral verges, but main­te­nance is a chal­lenge. The green patch de­vel­oped by PWD un­der the Mayur Vi­har fly­over on UP Link Road is all dried up today. It is an apt metaphor for the lack­lus­tre at­ti­tude of the city about trap­ping the dust de­spite the men­ac­ing pol­lu­tion.

Photos: Ra­jesh Me­hta, Sanjeev Ras­togi

| A ma­jor­ity of foot­paths don’t meet the guide­lines: Veg­e­ta­tive buf­fers are miss­ing, even cen­tral verges not prop­erly main­tained

| PWD re­cently re-car­peted 450km of road; work on 250km in var­i­ous stages of sanc­tion­ing

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