• Power shortage is generating pollution

  • More plastic goes into thicker bags

  • The Capital is so noisy that people are falling ill

  • Power shortage is generating pollution


    NEW DELHI: Of all the agents that contribute to the fouling Delhi’s air, one has gone without mention: the Delhi Vidyut Board. Years of recalcitrant power supply has pitched diesel or kerosene-run generators on the must-buy list of several households and shopowners, roadside factories and even some glowsigns.

    The generators emit noxious fumes and are a source of noise pollution as well.

    Unfortunately, no government agency has an estimate of the number of generators in Delhi, making it difficult to estimate their effect on air and noise pollution.

    Even DVB — the agency whose performance led to their burgeoning numbers — fails to give an idea of the number of gensets in the city. Says an environment department official: ‘‘DVB is supposed to keep a list of gensets which have a power-generation capacity of 10 kW or more.’’ But ask DVB and such records are untraceable.

    More importantly, most middle-class households now either have gensets or plan to get one below 10 kW capacity. ‘‘Even shopkeepers have gensets under 10 kW. But they create noise and air pollution,’’ says G K Mendiratta, environmental engineer at the Central Pollution Control Board.

    Frequent interruption in power supply in the Capital ensures gensets sell like hot cakes. Industry estimates suggest that sales figures in the gensets climb as much as 25 to 40 per cent during summers and winters. These seasons report more loadshedding and power cuts due to power shortage in the Capital.

    The gensets, which are switched on with petrol and then run on kerosene, have lesser toxic emissions. Available in downtown markets and manufactured by the top engine-making companies — Honda and Yamaha — such gensets have to adhere to emission standards at the manufacturing level.

    ‘‘These generators also emit fumes, albeit in a controlled manner. They should also be required to stick to standards set for noise pollution in the city,’’ says the officer. The problem, really, lies with the unbranded generators — mostly, fuelled by diesel. For them, the noise pollution standards are in place, that too at the manufacturer’s end.

    ‘‘The norms for noise pollution have already been notified. Regarding emission norms, work is in progress,’’ says S A Dutta, another environmental scientist with the CPCB.

    ‘‘There is no count of the number such fume-spewing gensets in the Capital. They might be running to lakhs. They are a major source of pollution,’’ says Dinesh Mohan, an expert on transport and traffic at the Indian Institute of Technology. Mohan has done several vehicle-related pollution studies, the latest being on CNG.

    Although such a large ‘unaccounted’ segment in the city contributes to the atmospheric pollution, there are no norms yet in place to control them. ‘‘There should be emission norms at the manufacturer’s end, and not the user’s end. And the unbranded products should also be brought under the fold of the authorities. Only then can the pollution caused by them will be checked,’’ said an environment ministry official. Says CPCB’s Mendi-ratta,‘‘The making of the norms are in process. They would be in place only by next year.’’ Till then, it’s close your nose and ears as you walk the streets of the Capital.


    More plastic goes into thicker bags


    NEW DELHI: The Delhi government has missed the woods for the trees. Instead of going after polybags, it has banned carrying food in recycled plastic bags. Now people can use virgin plastic bags for carrying food. But that leaves the same number of polybags in the environment before and after the ban.

    City environment minister A K Walia says: "The manufacture, sale and usage of recycled plastic bags has been banned for food items. Storage, carrying and keeping food in recycled plastic bags is harmful as food becomes toxic. But recycled plastic bags can be used for other purposes. And these will continue to be manufactured."

    Walia says polythene bags will now be 20 microns thick, as compared to earlier bags which were 3-5 microns thick. ‘‘This will increase the cost of the polybags and we hope to deter their use by this. This measure will increase the cost of a polybag by about five times. And people will be careful before littering the polybags,’’ adds Walia.

    But these arguments do not cut ice with environmentalists. Bharti Chaturvedi, an environmentalist, says: ‘‘The government is not only making us use more plastic but is also letting us do it legitimately. People cannot make out the thickness of these polybags. Also, if someone wants to use a polybag which is less thick, he cannot do so as the government has closed all options.’’

    She says: "The main problems associated with polybags still prevail. Cows will still get killed because the change in the microns does not make a difference to their intestines. Polybags will still clutter and choke sewers. A thicker polybag does not increase the income of rag pickers either."

    Chaturvedi says the government could have stressed on polybag substitutes but has not done so. "It could have banned the use of polybags in government institutions and forbid Mother Diary outlets from handing out polybags." Increasing the thickness is not much of a disincentive because this does not really hike the cost of a polybag to deterrent levels.

    But Central Pollution Control Board chairman Dilip Biswas says: "There is nothing new in this ban. Many other states are already implementing it. In Maharashtra and Kerala, the use of polythene bags has come down visibly because of the extra cost incurred in manufacturing them. In fact, the Delhi government is preparing the ground for phasing out polybags."

    He says: "The original idea, as devised by the National Plastics Task Force in 1996, was to increase the thickness of polybags between 70 and 80 microns. This would increase the cost to such an extent that it would restrict the use of polybags. But it would have killed the industry in one go, so we decided to restrict the thickness to 20 microns now."

    The Delhi Plastic Bags (Manufacture, Sale and Usage) and Non-biodegradable Garbage (Control) Bill 2000 was passed by the Delhi Assembly last year. It had been tabled in the monsoon session but was referred to a select committee to look into the reservations of Opposition leaders.


    The Capital is so noisy that people are falling ill


    NEW DELHI: Honking is a way of life in Delhi and the city is a noisy place to live in. Experts say sound levels in most areas are at least 15 to 20 decibels over desirable limits. And the biggest culprits are horns.

    According to the Central Pollution Control Board, in residential areas the daytime noise level should not go beyond 55 decibels. But on most days it easily crosses 70 decibels. The worst affected are silent zones. Take the case of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. The CPCB recorded a noise level of 83 decibels during the day inside the hospital premises. The level should not cross 50 decibels. Similarly, LNJP and Moolchand Hospitals have to put up with noise levels of 73 and 71 decibels, respectively.

    CPCB senior environmental engineer J S Kamyotra said: ‘‘The ambient noise levels were decided by a committee of experts, including doctors and environmentalists. It is assumed that constant exposure to noise levels higher than these could have adverse health effects.’’

    Doctors agree. Moolchand Hospital cardiologist Dr K K Aggarwal said: ‘‘About four years ago we conducted a health camp at the Kashmere Gate ISBT. We found that every other stall owner there had high blood pressure, that is, more than 140/90.’’

    Dr Aggarwal said even the bus drivers relaxing there had high blood pressure due to the never-ending din. He spoke of an international study which found students of schools located on busy roads more prone to hypertension.

    ‘‘Constant exposure to noise becomes a source of chronic stress. Such stress not only increases blood pressure, but also a sudden, loud noise can even precipitate angina pain or a heart attack,’’ he said.

    Noise pollution is known to harm unborn children. Maulana Azad Medical College obstetrics and gynaecology professor Dr Sudha Prasad said: ‘‘When exposed to a loud sound, the unborn baby becomes stressed. With it the fetal heart rate either becomes too fast or too slow. That may trigger premature labour.’’

    Dr Prasad said: ‘‘Constant exposure to high levels of noise can reduce the blood supply to the fetus and lead to a low-birth weight baby. In worst cases, a sudden exposure can even lead to a stillborn child.’’

    ENT specialists said sudden explosions can lead to partial or even complete hearing loss. In such exposure, the inner ear cells, which are the sound receptive organs, are altered. These changes over a period of time become permanent and irreversible, they said.