Toxic fumes from vehicles is not the only killer in the Capital. Delhiites are also choking on tonnes of dust that mixes with the air every day.
So much so that the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) in January had informed the Supreme Court that Delhi’s air pollution was mostly because of dust from roads and construction activities, a claim contested by pollution-control experts.
Much of the construction material remains at sites even after projects are complete and dust keeps mixing with the air. As it is, Delhi generates 4,000 tonnes of debris every day but the sole processing plant can deal with only 10% of it. The rest is randomly dumped.
If we put together construction and demolition waste generated in Delhi in a month, it can help make a 20-ft wide road stretching up to 70 kilometres — the distance between Connaught Place and Meerut.
“Dust from roads and construction sites is non-toxic and is only a respiratory irritant but it provides a surface area to poisonous gases,” said Anumita Roychowdhury of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
The CSE says the MoEF wants to protect the automobile industry by blaming dust for much of Delhi’s air pollution. But the advocacy group says road dust is also extremely harmful.
“We need strategies and stringent implementation to combat the menace. If we want to control air pollution, we must control dust,” Roychowdhury said.
“The consent to establish given by Delhi’s pollution watchdog to projects is subject to clean construction practices but rules are allowed to be flouted for obvious reasons,” said environment lawyer Aditya N Prasad.
In some cases, clearances are not even taken. The construction of the Signature Bridge across the Yamuna has been going on with the requisite environment clearance, the National Green Tribunal said in February, asking authorities to take remedial measures.
Because of spiralling land prices, old houses are being demolished and multiple floors built on the land. The debris that can potentially be recycled is being dumped to pollute Delhi’s air.
The three municipal corporations have designated 168 sites for such waste but transporters hired by contractors at construction sites dump the debris at low-lying areas or on Yamuna banks.
More than 50,000 truckloads of debris, dumped by government agencies such as DDA and Delhi Metro, were recently removed from the Yamuna’s banks after the court intervened.
If recycled, debris can be converted into ready-mix concrete, pavement blocks, kerb stones and concrete bricks.