When I reached Ahmedabad in 1987 to join my first job, the first thing I noticed about the city was dust. Looking out the window of my room in the circuit house on the bank of the Sabarmati river, I saw dust rising from its dry bed. The dusty environs was not surprising because that was the third successive drought year in the state.
But even the good monsoon of 1988 failed to provide temporary relief to the citizens. A few months after the rainy season, my wife developed severe cough. She was expecting our first child and we were alarmed at the development. Medical tests ruled out an infection. She suffered for many days before a local doctor concluded that it was allergic bronchitis. The culprit, as we had guessed, was the superfine dust swirling all round the city.
The diagnosis was spot on. Within days of shifting to my wife to her parent’s place in Jabalpur, her coughing bouts stopped.
In the meantime, I got transferred to another place and from there to another and so on. Eleven years passed before we returned to stay in Ahmedabad again. There was not much change in the situation.
But things started improving in 2003. First, the waters diverted from the Narmada ensured that the Sabarmati had water for a good part of the year. A wet riverbed took care of the dust. Then, two years ago, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation launched a massive anti-dust campaign. As part of the campaign, hundreds of kilometres of road shoulders were lined up with pavements, rotaries were turned into green oases and roads were cleaned regularly.
Results are showing now. Helped by the conversion of public transport vehicles, particularly the polluting auto-rickshaws to CNG, the quality of air has improved noticeably.
It is said that when Emperor Jehangir visited the city in 1617, he was so peeved that he named the city ‘gardabad’ — the city of dust. Four centuries later, Ahmedabad is ready to shake off that unenviable tag.