Big machines make little progress in sucking dust off roads

  • Soumya Pillai, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 20, 2016 09:28 IST
Cars drive from India Gate during a dust storm in New Delhi. (S Bumula/ HT Photo)

A giant vacuuming machine crawls through the dusty Mathura Road, rolling its brushes from the sides and making a whirring noise as it goes. But the promise of sucking in all the dust remains unfulfilled. The twirling bristles just push the dirt to the kerbs.

Among the list of initiatives announced by the Delhi government to reduce air pollution, the same time it announced odd-even scheme, was road vacuuming, started by the Public Works Department (PWD) on April 2.

A study released by IIT Kanpur in November 2015 showed road dust contributed to both PM10 (particulate matter below 10 microns) and PM2.5 (particulate matter below 2.5 microns) pollution in Delhi.

About 56% of PM10 levels in the city comprise road dust. For PM2.5 levels, the percentage stands at 38%.

The PWD has six vacuuming machines that operate around Naraina, AIIMS, and Mathura Road. Six more will be procured in the coming months.

At Mathura Road, the machine was seen only covering a 100-metre area. Operators said the uneven surface of the road made it difficult for the machine to run uninterrupted.

“It is a bulky machine and even if there is a slight curve on the surface the machine gets stuck. So we only operate it in the even portion. The rest is swept by the sanitation workers in the morning. Another problem is that these do not suck in the dust completely so some is left for the workers,” a senior PWD official said.

He said that the machine is stopped a few metres from potholes because it is designed to run in a unilateral direction and a zig-zag route spoils the brush below.

Gopal Kumar, a sanitation worker with the south Delhi municipal corporation (SDMC), said that there was no change in his schedule after the coming of the machine.

“The machine runs on the roads that I sweep. The only consolation is that in the portions where it runs, the dust is pushed to the sides so there is no need to thoroughly sweep it,” he said.

Similar problems surfaced in 2010 when Delhi’s tryst with road vacuums began. The undivided municipal corporation of Delhi (MCD) deployed 29 such machines but they could not be used because of the rugged roads. The machines now lie unused.

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