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Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

British gave India its first anti-pollution law in 1905

On Wednesday, the CSIR -NEERI, along with the union ministry of environment, forests and climate change, launched the digitised studies published on air pollution across the country dating as far back as 1905.

india Updated: Nov 07, 2019 12:01 IST
Vatsala Shrangi and Jayashree Nandi
Vatsala Shrangi and Jayashree Nandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The Bengal Smoke Nuisance Act was enacted for the abatement of nuisances, arising from the smoke of furnaces or fireplaces in the towns and suburbs of Kolkata and in Howrah in Bengal.
The Bengal Smoke Nuisance Act was enacted for the abatement of nuisances, arising from the smoke of furnaces or fireplaces in the towns and suburbs of Kolkata and in Howrah in Bengal.(Getty Images)
         

Air pollution has plagued India since the 1900s. Contrary to popular belief, the first anti-pollution law was framed by the British in the then Indian capital in Bengal in 1905. The Bengal Smoke Nuisance Act --- against smoke arising from furnaces or fireplaces in towns --- was the first such law aimed at protecting the environment.

Records dating back to the pre-internet times can now be found in the public domain. On Wednesday, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) - National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) along with the union ministry of environment, forests and climate change, launched the digitised studies published on air pollution across the country dating as far back as 1905.

This comes at a time when the national capital is grappling with high pollution levels due to various factors including vehicular emissions, industrial fumes and crop residue burning in neighbouring Haryana and Punjab, among others.

“Air pollution as a subject was recognised way back in India in 1905, when it was called the Bengal Smoke Nuisance Act. Under this rule, people could go to the local police and file a case against anyone who was indulging in a polluting activity, such as burning,” said, Rakesh Kumar, director, NEERI, while speaking at the launch.

The law had come into existence for the abatement of nuisances, arising from the smoke of furnaces or fireplaces in the towns and suburbs of Kolkata and in Howrah and other areas of Bengal. Later, in 1912, the Bombay Smoke Nuisance Act came in and in 1963, the Gujarat Smoke Nuisance Act was enacted, he added.

“We are collecting more such records from different archives across the country. There are thousands of research studies that go unnoticed for not being published or for not getting enough attention. We are trying to bring in all such relevant data under one umbrella. This is intended to help researches and organisations such as NEERI to have specific references while working on new studies,” said Kumar.

In Delhi, the first episode of ‘very dusty’ weather conditions was recorded during the summer months of May and June in 1952 and 1953, which had led to an apprehension that the arid region of Rajasthan was extending towards Delhi. This was probably the first time when experiments such as cloud-seeding were first thought of, highlights one such study by SC Roy of the Meteorological Department, published in 1954.

“The study published in the Indian Journal of Meteorology and Geophysics published in January 1954 explores whether cloud seeding is a possible solution to this. The study indicates that dust incursion from desert in Rajasthan was a worry even then. Now it has intensifies even more with the loss of vegetation over Aravallis in Haryana,” the study stated.

Consequent studies on the subject were taken up in 1969, 1970, 1973 and 1980, said NEERI scientists, who developed the web repository. The year 1981 proved to be a turning point for India, as far as tackling air pollution was concerned. For, it was in this year that the Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act was introduced. After this, the infamous Bhopal Gas Tragedy prompted the government to enact the Environment Protection Act in 1986.

Weather experts said the problem of desertification dates much beyond the 1950s.

“The Indo-Gangetic Plains (IGP) mostly receives westerly winds from the deserts of Rajasthan, except during monsoon. So, as desertification increases the impact of dust on the IGP region also increases. There were plans to create a thick barrier of trees so that the dust does not travel far into this region but nothing was done,” said a senior scientist from the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD).

The Indian Air quality Interactive Repository has archived approximately 700 scanned materials from pre-internet era (1950-1999), 1,215 research articles, 170 reports and case studies, 100 cases and over 2000 statutes, to provide the history of air pollution research and legislation in the country.

According to S K Goyal, senior principal scientist and head, NEERI-Delhi, the growing population and hence the rise in the number of polluting activities while the surface area has remained the same, is one of the major reasons behind the spike in air pollution levels.

“We need to increase awareness to reduce pollution levels at the source,” he said.

Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) chairman SPS Parihar said, “The website would enable us to get insights into reasons for air pollution and efforts that were made to deal with such issues in the past.”