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
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
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.
| 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