Bad air gnawing at our monuments

  • Chetan Chauhan and Nivedita Khandekar, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
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  • Updated: May 12, 2013 09:28 IST

Not just ordinary people, even the best known heritage monuments — a symbol of the country’s rich history and culture — are breathing uneasy because of rise in toxicity of air.

Most of the Indian cities are known for their heritage monuments but impact of rising air pollution on them is not measured. The government for the first time has made an attempt to highlight the gravity of the problem by collating data on pollution levels in the vicinity of 138 heritage monuments in 39 cities.

The comparison showed particulate matter pollution around monuments was within the national ambient air standard in only six of these cities — Shimla, Hassan, Mangalore, Mysore, Kottayam and Madurai. In the remaining, it was up to four times higher than the national standard of 60 micro grams in cubic meters of air.

Consider Red Fort or Qutub Minar in Delhi or Charminar in Hyderabad or Bara Imambara in Lucknow; these are all located in the most polluted regions of these cities.

In fact, Chandni Chowk, where Red Fort is situated, has highest particulate matter air pollution — about four times the national standard — for any place in the country. 

“The historical buildings (which include monuments and religious structures) located in cities are threatened by vehicular emissions and other gaseous pollutants being emitted in the air,” environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan told Lok Sabha this week.

KS Rana, director (science) with the Archeological Survey of India said they needed to observe if the condition of the monument was deteriorating due to environmental factors. “Stone/lime plaster/clay etc are the most affected due to bio-deterioration,” he said.

There are three main causes of deterioration — physical, biological and chemical. While air pollution is counted in ‘chemical’ category, dust pollution is termed as ‘physical’ pollution. Both chemical and dust pollution is high around these monuments.

The government has not enforced any traffic management plan around most monuments, which are in congested parts of cities, except around Taj Mahal, where the Supreme Court issued directions to check air pollution levels. As a result, air pollution around the world heritage monument has fallen.

In absence of similar directions for other monuments, the rising air pollution is said to be taking its toll on the monuments.

Take the instance of Charminar, where requests of reducing vehicular pollution by former director of Andhra Pradesh state archaeology department P Chenna Reddy has fell on deaf ears. Fate of other monuments is no different.

The government has also not undertaken any studies to measure the impact of air pollution around monuments to prepare heritage preservation plans.

Conservation architect Ratish Nanda, project director at Aga Khan Trust for Culture said that pollution is, essentially, a significant concern for any heritage monument.


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