The Central Pollution Control Board’s data, which puts Gwalior at the very top of India’s eleven most polluted cities in terms of particulate matter, has caught the Madhya Pradesh government on the wrong foot.
The 'surprised' state government has decided to send a team of experts to the city to verify what led to this unprecedented increase in pollution.
According to the pollution control board (CPCB), the particulate matter in Gwalior stands at 329 micrograms per cubic metre, which is over five times the permissible limit of 60 micrograms.
Expressing surprise over this piece of information, state environment and urban administration minister Kailash Vijaywargia told HT: "I have been to Gwalior so many times, but it didn't occur to me that it is a very polluted city. I will look into this issue myself. I will send a team of officials and experts to Gwalior to study what exactly is leading to such high levels of particulate matter."
Madhya Pradesh State Pollution Control Board chairman NP Shukla found it a very worrying development. He said the spurt in particulate matter pollution may have been caused due to factors such as high population density, increase in the number of vehicles, less greenery, and dilapidated roads.
"Gwalior's proximity to Delhi and other cities may have also played a role in some way. But we will find the real reason only by sending a team of experts to the city," Shukla added.
Residents in places across Gwalior agreed that this was a very disturbing development, and gave varied reasons – from the high population density and haphazard development to unchecked vehicular pollution – for the high pollution levels.
Vivek Diwedi, a businessman from Thaatipur in Gwalior, laid the blame on the rising population as well as the large number of small industrial units that have sprouted up within city limits.
"Such industrial plants add pollutants to the air, and need to be moved out of Gwalior. The government should earmark a separate area outside the city – an industrial hub – from where they can operate," he said.
Naresh Yadav, a small-time hotelier from Jayendraganj, said vehicles contributed the most to the particulate matter in the air.
"It is not just the emissions I'm talking about. When vehicles ply on dilapidated roads in hot conditions, they kick up a lot of dust and particulate matter. The reduction in green cover both inside and around Gwalior isn’t helping either," he elaborated.
But Ajeet Lahaney, a resident of Lashkar in Old Gwalior, has a different take on the matter. "Haphazard development and poor governmental monitoring are responsible for this. Many people in Old Gwalior – especially the elderly – regularly complain of cough, respiratory discomfort and asthma," Lahaney said.
What experts say
Environmental expert Dr Alok Sharma, who teaches environment planning at the Madhav Institute of Technology and Science-Gwalior, said that both historic and contemporary factors contribute to the pollution levels in Gwalior.
"Historically, people lived in congested areas of this city due to security concerns. Because of this, there is very less greenery here. Also, unmonitored public transport and lack of supporting road networks put pressure on some road stretches, causing traffic jams and increasing pollution levels," he said.
Gwalior-based chest specialist Dr Narendra Singh told HT that his experience of treating respiratory ailments over the years has clearly indicated that there is a high concentration of particulate matter in the air. "Respiratory ailments like cough, throat irritation, asthma and other lung diseases are on the rise here. But more studies are needed to ascertain the level of this trend," he said.