Breathing poison, dust in Gwalior

  • Neeraj Santoshi, Gwalior
  • Updated: Dec 13, 2015 18:41 IST
People in the city have been exposed to high levels of particulate matter for the last few years. (HT photo)

Earlier this summer, residents of Lakshman Tailaya, a neighbourhood in front of the historic Gwalior fort, woke up to find hundreds of fish rotting in the pond.

Devinder Sharma, who lives near the pond, said fish started to die in the pond for the first time around a year back.

“We are unable to understand why fish have been dying now even though the water of this neglected pond has been polluted for a long time,” he says.

“Are we missing something? Has our city become one of the most polluted in the country?” he questions.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board’s data, released earlier this year, Gwalior topped the list of polluted cities in the country in terms of suspended particulate matter.

Data shows that against the permissible limit of 60 micrograms per cubic metre, particulate matter (PM) in Gwalior was 329 micrograms per cubic metre, which is over five times the permissible limit.

A World Health Organisation report in 2014, put Gwalior among the 20 most polluted cities in the world. The report says that Gwalior has 144 micrograms of fine particles of less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter.

More bad news

The state government is planning to set up a continuous ambient air quality monitoring system at Gwalior to study the reasons why the city was becoming highly polluted.

According to experts, data shows that people in the city have been exposed to high levels of particulate matter for the last few years. Until now, the focus has been on the particulate matter between 2.5 microns and 10 microns (also called P10).

Till February this year, no measurements of fine particulate matter up to 2.5 microns, also called P 2.5, were being taken in Gwalior by the Madhya Pradesh State Pollution Control Board (MPSPCB).

According to health and environmental experts, the P 2.5 particulate matter is more harmful to people. Data collected from two places in the heart of the city--Maharaja Bada and MPSPCB’s office at DD Nagar--show that fine particulate matter above the permissible limit.

According to national ambient air quality standards prescribed by the Union ministry of environment and forest, the 24 hour average of fine particulate matter (P2.5) should not be beyond 60 micrograms and its annual average should be less than 40 micrograms per cubic metre.

Data for October 2015, shows that fine particulate matter (P 2.5) in Gwalior was in the range of 72 to 89 micrograms per cubic metre, which is higher than the permissible limits.

In case of P10 particulate matter also called Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM), the situation over the last few years has not been good, though there has been some improvement recently.

Against the permissible limit of 60 micrograms per cubic metre, P10 particulate matter in the city, according to official data, was 283.53 micrograms per cubic metre in 2011-2012, 309.57 in 2012-13, 205.26 in 2013-14 and 140.6 in 2014-15.

Data for October 2015 shows that P10 in Gwalior was in the range of 123 to 101 micrograms per cubic metre.

Even as the authorities say that it has come down recently, it is still over twice the permissible level.

Looking at the previous data it becomes clear that P10 began to increase in the city from 2006 onwards, peaking around 2012.

A Central Pollution Control Board report published in 2012 says, “Analysis of seven year air quality data with respect to PM10 shows an increasing trend. The increasing trend for PM10 may be attributed to the increasing number of vehicles and re-suspension of natural dust.”

It is not just air pollution

The city’s only waste management plant that receives more than 300 tonne of garbage every day is lying idle since September 2013. The plant, one of the first to be built in the state, started operating in 2006. The Indian Air Force, worried about bird-hits, had provided Rs 10 crore for its construction, said a senior civic official

Dusty all the way

To understand what has gone wrong in Gwalior, HT visited several parts of the city, interacting with residents, stakeholders, officials and environmentalists.

According to civic authorities, more than 800 vans, most of which are old, had to be phased out following a National Green Tribunal order to reduce pollution levels. Most city roads are cluttered with building debris, garbage heaps and waste material. On the Gwalior-Bhind road near Govardhan Colony, large heaps of garbage was being burnt, adding to fumes and smoke to dust kicked up by heavy traffic.

Most city roads do not have side drains due to which loose soil turns to dust and adding to the particulate matter. This apart construction activities, expansion and lying of sewerage network are on in the city, which adds to suspended particulate matter in the air, especially during the summer months.

Authorities defensive

State Pollution Control Board is trying to give various explanations to justify its own data. AK Jain, regional officer of the board in Gwalior, admitted that particulate matter in the city has increased over the years.

The CPCB data collected in 2012, does not give a clear picture the entire city, he tells HT. “In 2011-12, the road in front of our office was dug for a long time as there was some dispute with the contractor for this road stretch. Besides, sewer lines were being laid in city. Both these added particulate matter close to the measuring equipments,” he says, adding that Old Gwalior had very little greenery.

What local studies say?

Dr Harendra Sharma, an environmentalist at Jiwaji University, says that pollution levels in the city had increased with urbanization and vehicle congestion.

A health survey conducted by his students sampling 400 commuters shows that there were increasing number of people with symptoms like sneezing (21.7%), sore throat (19.2%), shortness of breath (15.5%), wheezing (2.7%), chest tightness (14.2%), skin irritation (13.5%), nausea (13.2%) in city neighbourhoods.

Government strategy

Gwalior Municipal Corporation officials who do not dispute data of pollution levels in the city admitted that they know what went wrong. An civic official, who did not want to named, says in 2012, the civic body started a project to lay 68-km sewerage network in the city as part of which large stretches of roads were being dug. “The project is almost complete. And then in 2013, we started developing 11 roads in the city under CM’s infrastructure development scheme, as part of which many structures were demolished and roads expanded,” he says. “Nine roads are now complete. There is no doubt in my mind that these massive projects kicked off lot of particulate matter which data shows.”


HS Malwiya, executive engineer of Madhya Pradesh State Pollution Control Board, who has served as the regional officer in the city, shared his five-point formula to make Gwalior pollution free.

Solid waste should be collected efficiently and disposed of scientifically

All the sewerage of Gwalior needs to be treated before it goes into rivers — Murar and Swarn Rekha. The present treatment plant with 50 million litres per day is insufficient

Open burning of garbage should be stopped

All roads should be developed properly, with drains on both sides. Dug roads should be restored properly and immediately

All polythene usage should be banned.

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