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Need a whiff of fresh air to breathe in dusty Delhi

Dust pollution is not new in developing cities. But it assumes alarming proportions in the National Capital Region because of the land-locked geographical position, unfavourable meteorological factors and multiple pollution sources in the region and beyond.

delhi Updated: Oct 27, 2017 17:23 IST
Joydeep Thakur & Ritam Halder
Joydeep Thakur & Ritam Halder
Hindustan Times
delhi air,delhi news,delhi pollution
Dust from new road construction site at NH-24 near Ghazipur in New Delhi, India, on October 24.(Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

Life has played a strange game with 70-year-old Mahaveer and his family. His house at Samaspur in East Delhi had to be razed to make way for the expansion of National Highway-24 for the Meerut Expressway project. Now he has to inhale the dust arising out of the rubble of his demolished house.

“My eight-year-old granddaughter has developed asthma in the last two years. Pollution has increased and almost every other person complains of respiratory problems. Dust is all over. First it was the metro construction, then highway expansion and now my house has been demolished,” he said, sitting on piles of debris that was once his house.

Dust pollution is not new in developing cities. But it assumes alarming proportions in the National Capital Region because of the land-locked geographical position, unfavourable meteorological factors and multiple pollution sources in the region and beyond.

“We are geographically in tropico-temperate regions where rainfall is limited to 25-30 days in a year. The top soil is loose and even minimal activity on the ground triggers very tiny dust–powder like–in the atmosphere.This dust can’t be precipitated or removed even with torrential rains. We need comprehensive control of land use. We need to manage and maintain each and every single inch of land, and control each activity,” said D Saha, head of the Central Pollution Control Board air lab.

Efforts to contain road dust and pollution from construction and demolition sites seems to come to a naught when one sees the colonies of Khichdipur, Samaspur, Mayur Vihar Phase II, Vinod Nagar among others.

A thin layer of dirt settles minutes after cleaning. From leaves to cars to household items – everything is coated in dust.

“Everything outside or inside is covered with dust all the time. I developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The dust aggravates it. I am able to breathe freely only in monsoon,” said Jasminder Singh, a resident of Khichdipur-Block 8.

There are residential colonies, high-rises and hotels on both sides of NH-24 where massive construction work, mounds of material lying uncovered and rubble from demolished buildings has made life hell.

Massive construction work is on NH-24 from Sarai Kale Khan up to UP Gate for the expansion of the arterial road and the building of Delhi Meerut Expressway. ( Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO )

“The Khichdipur road is being dug up to lay water pipelines, triggering heavy pollution. No water is sprinkled nor are sites covered,” said 26-year-old Javed Khan, who had to hang a plastic sheet in front of his stall to stop the dust.

Most of the big construction activities are controlled by PWD, Delhi Metro and the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI).

The Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority has tasked the authorities in Delhi-NCR to prepare a list of roads with high volume of dust.

Authority chairman Bhure Lal said NH-24 needs urgent measures. “It is one of the worst polluters. Every time a vehicle zooms past, it churns up a smoke of dust,” said Bhure Lal.

Hindustan Times tried to get in touch with RP Singh, project director, NHAI, through calls and text messages but he could not be reached.

So is there any mechanism in place for these agencies to control dust?

A senior PWD official said there is a housekeeping clause in the contract of every project.

“It essentially talks about covering construction material, barricading, removing construction and demolition waste and so on. This needs to be enforced by the engineer in-charge. My experience is this does not happen due to the insensitive attitude of local engineers. There is a provision of a penalty of R50,000 for violation,” he said.

Delhi Metro, too, on Thursday claimed to have begun a “vigorous” anti-pollution drive at its construction sites, where a few violations have been reported recently.

Anuj Dayal, Delhi Metro Railway Corporation’s executive director (corporate communications), said all construction site in-charges have been asked to take up dust control measures vigorously. “They have been directed to extensively use water sprinkling and other measures to control dust,” Dayal said.

Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) are the primary pollutants of Delhi with levels often shooting up to 10 times the permissible limit.

A study by IIT Kanpur in 2016 on behalf of the state environment department said road dust and particles from construction and demolition sites contribute nearly 60% of the particulate matter.

Soil and road dust and airborne fly ash are major sources of PM10 pollution in summer.

“The silt load on some of the Delhi’s road is very high and it can become airborne with the movement of vehicles, particularly in the dry summer season. The estimated PM10 emission from road dust is over 65 tons per day,” the IIT study says.

Amid the mess, there are many who try and do their bit by conforming to dust norms.

At A Block in South Delhi’s Chittaranjan Park, Bhawani Mondal is busy with welding for an under-construction house. This site has been covered with blue tin sheets and a green net to prevent dust from going out.

“These nets are sprinkled with water regularly. For most construction sites, we follow these norms. For the past one-two years, we have to keep in mind that no dust from the building site gets out,” Mondal says.

First Published: Oct 27, 2017 17:22 IST