Mrittikaa

our earth, our life

Archive for Wasteland

Toying with high toxic metal with ease

KOLKATA, 1 SEPT: At a time when the state pollution control board has taken up a drive to phase out lead, a toxic-metal, innumerable lead-battery units in the city not only continue to cough out lead aerosol and dust, but also ignore the safety of labourers working in these units.
There are about 100 small or medium lead battery units operating on the stretch of APC Road from Manicktala Crossing to Khanna Crossing. While some of the units in this area, better known as Peyara Bagan, have trade licences, some operate without it. The narrow lanes could be seen having a smoke-filled one-room workshop where men are seen melting lead. Neither do they have gloves nor masks to protect them from lead dust and aerosol, acid fumes and the molten metal (see sns photos).
Mr Prasanta Barui, a worker in one of the factories in the area, said: “My brother and I have developed stomach problems. But these are occupational hazards. We do not have a choice but to work here.”
Mr Barui and his brother do not have a single document to prove that they work for the battery unit. Most of the men are hired from the city outskirts and they are not kept at the same unit for more than four to five years. “We cannot claim compensation in case we meet with an accident as the owner can any day say that we are not his employees,” said Mr Ram Karmakar, another worker in the unit.
“Most of the people are forced to quit jobs within five years as they contract diseases,” said Mr Sanat Paul, who suffers from lead neuropathy, a disorder caused by lead poisoning. Mr Paul was an employee of a battery unit almost 12 years ago. His job was to knead red lead and acid and spread the mixture out on a plate that are used to make the structural units of large lead batteries. This is a hazardous process as per Factories Act, 1948.
According to a scientist with the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB), lead is the most widely studied toxic metal and the WHO has declared that there is no safe limit for lead in human body. While its adverse effect on the central nervous system and kidneys is known as clinical disorder, under-developed IQ level is the sub-clinical effect mostly seen in children. “The government had made it mandatory that anywhere where lead is used or processed, a 30-metre high chimney should be put up with a suction mechanism. However, primitive industries seldom follow the guidelines. The way they get the scrap lead is also illegal,” he said. Mr Sandipan Mukherjee, member secretary of WBPCB, said that the board would soon look into the matter.

Soma Basu

Minister pitches for sponge iron units

KOLKATA, 26 AUG.: The state needs industries and sponge iron units cannot be done away with, said Mr Sailen Sarkar, environment minister, today. He, however, added that as such units would inevitably cause pollution, they should be made to take remedial measures.
Mr Sarkar was speaking at a meeting on ‘Nirmal Nadi Abhijan’ organised by the West Bengal Pollution Control Board at Paribesh Bhawan today.
He also said that many complaints are received against the sponge iron units and some of them are even slapped with fine. “But if all the units are shut down, people would demonstrate and ask that where would all the workers go?” He also praised the Union minister for environment, Mr Jairam Ramesh, for not granting Vedanta environment clearance for its bauxite-mining project in Orissa. He was reacting to the point raised by the WBPCB chairman, Mr PN Roy, that at some places, sponge iron units have polluted ponds that are the only source of drinking water for the nearby villages. “The WBPCB has inspected some of the areas around the sponge iron units. A woman showed us rice that was black in colour. Also, animals have been dying in the village after drinking contaminated water and leaves with residues,” said Mr PN Roy. Mr Roy had also said that the WBPCB has to withstand several coercions from the state and well as the Union government while carrying out its activities.
Mr Sarkar said that even the Centre has allotted more funds for the Yamuna Action Plan than the Ganga Action Plan.
He lauded the newly elected members of municipalities for taking active participation in the Nirmal Nadi Abhijan and said the Kolkata Port Trust should share the responsibility of keeping Ganga clean.
When a representative from an NGO asked about sewage outlets that dump untreated water in the river, Mr Sarkar said: “We have been asking the municipalities to treat their waste water but they say they don’t have money.” It should be noted that there are 324 sewer outlets between Kalyani and Diamond Harbour.
Mr Dipak Chakraborty, chief scientist of WBPCB, said that the World Bank would be funding the project aimed at monitoring the rivers online. He said that the state urban development department also had a meeting with the WBPCB to launch an awareness campaign for clean rivers.

Soma Basu

E-waste menace plagues Bengal

KOLKATA, 11 AUG: The Kolkata Metropolitan Area (KMA) generates 26,000 tons of potential e-waste annually out of which only 2,000 tons is being recycled, stated the report on E-waste Inventorisation in KMA released by Dr Juergen Bischoff, director of GTZ-ASEM at the state pollution control board auditorium today.
The GTZ-ASEM is a joint programme of the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and the Union ministry of environment and forests. The Central and state pollution control board, Indian Chamber of Commerce and GTZ, supported the study. The Business and Industrial Research Division of IMRB International did the research. The report also projected that e-waste generation is likely to increase to 1,44,823 tons by the year 2020.
Mr PN Roy, chairman, West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB) said, “E-waste has become a major challenge. The report was a part of the first phase of the programme aimed to tackle the menace. The second phase would involve legal handling of the waste.”
There is currently no e-waste recycling unit in the state. Mr Roy also said that unorganized e-waste recycling units operate out of scattered areas in Kolkata and Howrah and unless the people working at these places are skilled in the recycling process, unorganised operations would continue. He stressed on the fact that there should be no loss of livelihood due to effective handling of e-waste.
Mr Siddhartha, principal secretary, state IT department said that they are working with the WBPCB in the second phase of the programme. “The IT department will provide whatever scientific and technological help is needed in setting up e-waste recycling units in the state,” he added.
Currently, most of the e-waste finds its way to unauthorized scrap dealers and finally to the backyard processors that are engaged in dismantling these wastes and extracting recoverable materials such as copper, lead, gold, iron, aluminium and plastic in by crude methods. The remaining waste invariably ends up in the municipal dumps and the inherent toxins seep into the ground water. The open burning of such waste results in the emission of highly toxic air pollutants that have an adverse effect on human health. Dr Ashish Chaturvedi, technical manager, GTZ-ASEM said that they had conducted a study on detrimental effects of e-waste handling among the workers in the unorganized sector and it was found that they had high concentration of toxic heavy metals in their body.
Dr Dipak Chakroborty, chief scientist of WBPCB said, “It is a requirement that electronic product producers should adopt EPR (extended producer responsibility) and corporate social responsibility, so that e-waste could be handled in an effective way.” He said that ‘polluter pay principle’ is the need of the hour.

Soma Basu

Kolkata vehicles fail emission deadline

KOLKATA, 29 JULY: The Bharat Stage IV norms, whose deadline was set by the National Auto Fuel Policy as 1 April, 2010, has still not been implemented in the city.
The National Auto Fuel Policy makes it mandatory for all automobiles and fuel (petrol and diesel) to meet BS-III emission specifications in 11 cities from April 1, 2005 and BS-IV norms by April 1, 2010 and BS-III emission norm compliant automobiles and fuels in the rest of the country by 1 April, 2010. The deadline for implementation of Bharat Stage III emission norms all over the country, that was originally set for 1 April 2010, has now been delayed till October this year.
When asked why the BS IV has not been implemented, Mr Ranjit Kundu, state transport minister, said, “We will implement BS-IV norms as soon as the manufacturers are able to supply BS-IV compliant vehicles.” Auto emission expert, Mr SM Ghosh, however, said that the manufacturers have BS-IV vehicles. Consequently, we see so many private-owned BS-IV cars on the roads. “The state government has violated the rules. The state government is deliberately not implementing the norms to keep commercial vehicle owners happy,” he said. Officials of the state transport department say that they have not been given clear instructions on when to stop the registration of BS III vehicles.
The commercial vehicle owners, meanwhile, have refused to buy BS-IV vehicles, stating that they are expensive. They say that a BS-IV compliant bus costs Rs 20 lakh while a BS-III compliant bus comes for Rs 14 Lakh. The taxi owners said that BS-IV taxis come for Rs 4.5 lakh, while BS-III compliant taxis come for Rs 3.75 lakh. Fuel for the BS-IV vehicle is also expensive, Rs 2 more than the BS-III compliant vehicles. Mr Swarnakamal Saha, president, Bengal Bus Syndicate said, “The BS-IV vehicles would not be able to ply on the city roads as they are in a bad shape. The state government should improve the road conditions before implementing BS-IV norms. The BS-IV compliant fuel is also not adequately available in the state.”
Interestingly, several BS-II vehicles still ply on the city roads. Also, several BS-II buses have BS-III painted on their bodies and the drivers seem to know nothing about it. “BS-III is something to do with the permit,” said the driver of a bus on the Salt Lake-Howrah route.
Though the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) has brought out a list of four-wheeler models that have been upgraded to BS IV, the Union ministry of road transport and highways issued an order that allows authorities to register BS III compliant vehicles till existing stocks are exhausted.
The deadline for implementation of BS-III was relaxed in other parts of the country after the oil companies said that they need more time to supply cleaner fuel to match the technological upgradation in the vehicles. “If a BS-IV vehicle runs on a BS-II or BS-III fuel, it may suffer damage,” said Mr Dipak Chakraborty, chief scientist, state pollution control board.

Soma Basu

Clean air? Not in suburbia

KOLKATA, 26 JULY: Air quality in the outskirts seems to be deteriorating rapidly.
The air pollution level in the city and the outskirts were found to be equal in some parameters considered while monitoring the ambient air quality by the state pollution control board while in others, the level of pollution in the outskirts were found to be exceeding the city.
Even though the vehicular traffic in the outskirts is less, most of the old commercial vehicles that were phased out of the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Area (KMDA) zone after a Calcutta High Court order were found plying in the suburbs. The high court banned 15-year-old commercial vehicles, as they didn’t have the requisite devices to check pollution. However, most of these vehicles rule the roads near Baguiati, Hatiara, Garia, Baruipur, Amtala, Khardah, Barrackpore and Dum Dum.
“The vehicular pollution is not the only factor that leads to the rise in pollution level in the suburbs. The industries are also responsible for worsening the air quality,” said Debanjan Gupta, scientist, West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB). He said that the re-suspension of dust also heightens the pollution level. While the permissible limit for Respirable Particulate Matter (RPM) is 50 µg/m3, it was found to be as high as 112 µg/m3 in the suburbs. The city, however, recorded 88.8 µg/m3. The permissible limit of RPM for residential area is 60 µg/m3, while in industrial areas, it is 120 µg/m3. Mr Gupta also said that the weather conditions also play a pivotal role in determining these values.
Mr Dipak Chakraborty, chief scientist, WBPCB, said that after the old vehicles were phased out, the pollution in the city did not go down. Benzene, a hazardous air pollutant that causes cancer and a component in automobile oil, has successfully been reduced. “The air quality graph is static right now. This means that the pollution is neither increasing nor decreasing. But with the rise in number of vehicles in the city, it may rise again in the future,” he said. He also said that in the after monitoring some places in the districts, it was found that the air pollution level is increasing menacingly.
Most of the public vehicles plying on the outskirts are ones that had been banned in the city. Lack of testing centres in the districts has given a free hand to the autos that use adulterated oil. “Engine vans” plying in the districts are also highly polluting.
Mr Debabrata Das, superintendent of the Durgapur Sub-divisional Hospital, said there has been an increase in number of patients that come to the hospital with problems such as asthma and bronchitis. “Pollution is one of the major factor leading to this rise in number of patients complaining about respiratory distress,” he said.

Soma Basu

Rally breaks records and norms…

Kolkata, 21 July: The Martyrs’ Day organised by the Trinamul Congress in the city today violated a slew of norms on noise pollution.
While the loudspeakers fitted in silence zones, near hospitals and schools, blared out Nachiketa’s song Ei dushon e te pran bache na, nishash nite chai, cholo hawa bodole te jai…(Can’t live amidst such pollution, want to breathe free, let us welcome wind of change)”, patients in numerous hospitals tossed and turned in their beds praying for the loudspeakers to stop. “People have been screaming into the microphones from morning. I can’t bear it anymore. I just want to run away from this place,” said Ms Namita Saha, who has just given birth to a baby in the maternity ward of Lady Dufferin Victoria Hospital. Loudspeakers have been put up every 6-7 metres away just across the road where the maternity ward is situated.
Loudspeakers were put up from Girish Park metro to Dharmatala irrespective of hospitals such as the Islamia Hospital, Calcutta Medical College and Hospital and School of Tropical Medicine in clear violation of the norms set by the state pollution control board, Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000, and Calcutta High Court order. The High Court order stated that microphones should not be allowed to operate for any time in the silence zone, i.e. 100 metres around the premises like hospitals, nursing homes, educational institutions and courts. Moreover, the High Court order had also stated all the loudspeakers should be fitted with Sound Limiter. And in the commercial areas the noise decibel limit should not exceed 65 dB/Leq. The limit had been set as 55 dB/Leq for residential areas.
“My father is mentally unstable. The noise has driven him crazy since morning,” said Ms Lipika Das, a resident of Chittaranjan Avenue. A loudspeaker is fitted just outside her window.
Mr Tapan Das, proprietor of Das Sounds, who was controlling the amplifiers beneath the main dais in Dharmatala, said that he has put up 375 loudspeakers in the areas such as Park Street, Jyoti Cinema, Corporation Building, Bowbazar Thana, Rani Rashmoni and Dharamtala only. He also said that more than 300 might be fitted in other areas. “The High Court has extended the limit to 90 decibels so we have fitted sound limiters with seven amplifiers at 85 decibels.”
However, none of the amplifiers was seen fitted with sound limiters. Mr Subhas Dutta, green activist, said that Calcutta High Court had set the limit at 65 decibels and not 90 decibels.

Soma Basu

Stench of death disquieting kids

KOLKATA, 15 JULY: Students of the Kolkata Municipal Primary School at Neel Madhab Sen Lane are forced to spend their days amidst the stench of bodies emanating from the Kolkata Police Morgue just opposite the school building (in SNS photo).
Not only the stench, but the sight of the misshapen dead bodies brought to the morgue haunts the children for days. They have no other option than to use the lane (near Mohammed Ali Park) to walk to school and come back.
“Our children witness such horrid scenes everyday and complain after coming home. We have become used to the stench, but it is very uncomfortable when our relatives come to visit us,” said a resident of the area whose daughters study in the primary school.
Ms Rehana Khatoon, councillor of the area, said that the residents have been suffering because of this for a long time. They had organised a camp and signature campaign in November last year. “We had submitted a mass petition to the state health minister to shift the morgue away from the residential area but nothing has been done so far,” she said.
Another resident of the area said that he, along with others, had met Jyoti Basu in 1998 and had urged him to shift the morgue and to use the building for some other purpose. They also met the erstwhile police commissioner and the officials of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. All of them said that the morgue could not be shifted as it is close to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, making it convenient for shifting bodies. However, Jyoti Basu had made arrangements for ACs to be installed at the morgue to prevent a stench. “But there is no maintenance in these places and the stench has become a part of our life now,” said Md Israel Ahmad, who has been living in the area for the past 40 years.
Another resident said: “The unclaimed bodies are not shifted on time and rot here. We have to suffer because of this.” The bodies of the Jnaneswari train accident victims were brought here as the curious children looked on. “We cannot cover their eyes,” he added. The residents also said that they have often agitated and have even stopped officials and staff from taking the bodies inside the morgue or taking them out but to no avail.
The staff at the morgue denied any such incident. They said that the morgue was established at the time of the British rule when the area was not so thickly populated. “The people have learnt to adjust. If they complain, we wash the area with phenyl. It is as normal as neighbours fighting over garbage,” he said. Mr Atin Ghosh, MMIC, Health, said: “I have just joined and have not heard of any problem in that area. But if there is any such issue, we will take steps to ensure that the people don’t suffer.”

Soma Basu

So much for a glitter!

KOLKATA, 12 JULY: The state pollution control board strictures on operation of gold smelting units in the Bowbazaar area has done little to stop the practice that is not only harmful for the environment, but also a health hazard for the workers.
While the toxic metal, cadmium, is used unabated in soldering jewellery, the limit of half a litre of nitric acid and sulphuric acid set by the pollution control board is seldom adhered to.
“We are not scared of the acid fumes. We often need to take some tablets so that our lungs are not damaged,” said an owner of a smelting unit in Harkata Gali in Bowbazar, pouring nitric acid into a bowl that contained a piece of bronze. Soon, the room was filled with brown acid fumes, later pushed out into the open by an exhaust fan.
He also said that they receive a huge quantity of old jewellery from different places. They need to clean them first with the help of acid and then start the process of smelting. The acid fumes are a major source of air-pollution in the area, which is teeming with such units. Four to six smelters are cooped up in tiny rooms, that generally have a small window to let the acid fumes out. Most of these smelters are reported to have major respiratory problems. Residents of the area prefer to rent out rooms to goldsmiths to make money.
“We have tried to stop this a number of times. But despite warning them repeatedly, they carry on with the practice. It is not possible for us to go and check everyday,” said Mr Biswajit Mukherjee, chief law officer of PCB.
The goldsmiths work not only amidst harmful fumes, but also with cadmium which is used in soldering the metal.
Though the general secretary of Banga Swarna Silpi Samity, Mr Tagar Chandra Poddar, denied the use of cadmium vehemently, one of the workers near the branch office of the samity, a stone’s throw from the head office, said, “The samity has no idea in what conditions we work. We are forced to use cadmium.” Inhaling cadmium-laden dust quickly leads to respiratory tract and kidney problems that can be fatal. Mr Poddar also said that it takes Rs 1,800 to get a green category certificate. But the set up of the units are such that it cannot be ensured that the work going on there is in line with environmental norms. Ms Sanchita Mondal, MMIC, environment, said: “This does considerable harm to the buildings. We are planning to launch an awareness drive for the goldsmiths.”
There should be a way to ensure that the workers do not suffer and that the environment can be saved at the same time, she added.

Puja organisers to get award for using lead-free paint

KOLKATA, 7 JULY: Use of lead-free colours by Durga puja organisers will be a criterion for the award of ‘Shera Sharad Nirman Puja Puraskar’ arranged by the department of environment and the state pollution control board.
The pollution control board will also request other organisations to consider this criteria for “Sharad Samman.”
This will not only give an incentive to puja organisers in the state to opt for idols painted with lead-free colours, but also help idol-makers unable to use such colours due to the increase in the cost. This move will also save the rivers in which the idols are finally immersed, as well as their organisms, from lead contamination.
Efforts have been made to phase out colours with a high concentration of lead, especially red and yellow, for the past three years. This bore no results, due to the lack of incentives given to stake-holders. Mr Babu Pal, secretary of Kumartuli Mrit Silpa Sankriti Samity, said, “If we use such colours, the cost of each idol goes up by Rs 600 to Rs 800. The puja organisers simply refuse to pay the increased amount.”
He also cited a number of other problems that have kept them from using environment-friendly colours. “With the colour we use now, we know how many coatings are needed, how it will look after it dries. With the new type of colours, it is very risky,” he said. But, he said that with the incentives given, taking such risks would be easier. They had earlier asked for samples of such colours and some time to try them out first.
Idol-makers are more prone to lead poisoning due to their prolonged exposure to colours that are high on the heavy metal. But since they are comfortable with using old colours, they dodge the question when asked whether they have faced any effect on their health. Many of them do not even know that some very common ailments could be a result of lead poisoning. “The colours we use now have been used by generations of idol-makers, what could be wrong with that,” asked an idol-maker in Kumartuli.
Even though the state pollution control board is set to spread awareness about use of such colours by distributing banners in the city, Howrah and different districts situated on the banks of the river, Mr Pal said that they do not know from where to get such colours. A meeting between the artisans and PCB officials will be held on 24 July to discuss the issue.

Soma Basu

Care lost at healthcare facility

KOLKATA, 7 JUNE: Despite being served a showcause notice citing alleged non-compliance of Biomedical Waste (management and handling) Rules, 1998, by the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB), Calcutta Medical College and Hospital (CMCH) was found flouting norms by not separating untreated biomedical waste and domestic waste on its premises.
The assistant superintendent of CMCH, Dr Susmita Nag, claimed that human anatomical waste (body tissue, organs, placenta, body parts) are kept in yellow bags in a vat near the Eden Building on the CMCH premises and a private operator, M/s SembRamky Environmental Management Pvt. Ltd, approved by the state government takes care of its disposal. Biomedical wastes including plastic and sharp instruments are kept in blue bags and are disinfected at the hospital after which gloves are shredded and sharp instruments are destroyed so that they cannot be reused. Black bags containing domestic waste are kept in a vat near Gate no 1 of the CMCH that is cleaned every morning.
But this correspondent found that blue, yellow and black bags were kept together in two vats near gate no 1. There was no separate vat for yellow bags (human anatomical waste) near the Eden building. Not only this, syringes and tubes containing blood samples, gloves and various kinds of bottles were found littered at the back of the vat enclosure near gate no 1. A staff of the CMCH canteen said: “The vat is emptied every morning at 9 am. Just the vats are cleaned and not the area around.” By the end of the day, the vats are seen spilling over it and the waste that falls around is left to rot. Gloves, syringes and blue bags were seen lying at different spots in the CMCH. The gloves were not shredded and needles were intact on the syringes.
A cleaning staff of the hospital said: “I don’t know what blue, yellow and black means. We just empty the dustbins near gate no 1 and a vehicle comes to clean the vats regularly.”
The senior environment engineer of Waste Management Cell of WBPCB, Mr Shyamal Adhikari, said that CMCH has given a very brief reply to the showcause notice it was served. “The CMCH authorities have said that they will comply by the bio-medical waste management norms. We are having discussions on the issue and the WBPCB decision will be known by the end of this week.”
Also, syringes, medicine bottles, blood bags, blood-soaked gauges, tapes and cottons were seen lying on a narrow passage from the CMCH to School of Tropical Medicine. Empty blue, black and yellow bags were also seen lying in the heaps. Only red bags that are supposed to carry infectious waste were not seen anywhere.
Not only bio-medical waste, domestic waste is seen dumped everywhere. Heaps of torn pillows and mattress, masks and aprons used by doctors and plastic bags were seen piled up at every other nook and corner away from the main passages. Blood is seen flowing in nullas and some of the drains are used as open toilets.

Soma Basu

Conents of blue and yellow bags seen littered on the CMCH premises.


Blue, yellow and black bags dumped in a vat near gate no.1 of the CMCH.


Blood samples lying near the vat enclosure near gate no 1 of the CMCH.

Kolkata ~ a stranger to re-cycling still

KOLKATA, 4 JUNE: The city which produces 8,000 metric tons of e-waste each year, ranks third in the country when it comes to e-waste generation, thanks to the lack of re-cycling and treatment units.
Mr Biswajit Mukherjee, senior law officer of West bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB), said: “There are no laws to check e-waste in the city. A draft E-Waste Management and Handling Rules, 2010 has been proposed by the Union ministry of environment and forest and it will have to formulate a way to collect, store and dispose e-waste. The Union government is planning to set up collection centres in various parts of the state.”
However, Prof. Sadhan Ghosh, director, Centre for Quality Management System of Jadavpur University, said that there are many loopholes in the draft which was made public in April. “Considering the economy of our country, the draft should have considered 10 years instead of five for renewal of authorisation certificate from the concerned PCBs. The penalty for defaulters is also not clearly stated in the draft. Also, electronic goods producers should be levied cess that would motivate them to obey the rule,” he said.
A study, E-Waste: Flooding the City of Joy, conducted in 2007 by Prof. Ghosh in association with Toxics Link, New Delhi, states that some of the unorganised units in the city recycle this waste by burning them openly, thereby exposing themselves to dangerous toxic and carcinogenic substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium, and chromium.
Some of the major hotspots for e-waste in the city are Chandni Chowk, Princep Street, Kankurgachi, Kadapara, Rajabazaar, Howrah, Topsia and Grey Street where various forms of electronic items such as washing machines, television, DVD players are dismantled and recycled.
Most of the big companies, public and private, are disposing of their waste through official tenders in newspapers. Some have in recent years embraced the exchange policy wherein they return the old computers and get some discount on the new purchase. And in some cases, where the e-waste generation is small, the companies just sell it to the local scrap dealers. Recently, Union minister for environment, Mr Jairam Ramesh, had said in Parliament that the ports in the country are ill-equipped in checking e-waste import.

Study of fish in the offing!
KOLKATA, 4 JUNE: Mr Biswajit Mukherjee, senior law officer of West Bengal Pollution Control Board, said in Writers’ Building yesterday that rising level of mercury in fish in the state is a great threat and the board is planning to conduct a study to access the extent of contamination in fish sold in local markets in the city. The study will be initiated soon.

Soma Basu

Lost without a trace…

KOLKATA, 4 JUNE: Neither the forest department headquarters nor the wildlife wing of state forest directorate or the state bio-diversity board has any record of species of flora and fauna lost in the last 100 years due to urbanisation in the state.
The additional principal chief conservator of forests, wasteland development corporation, Mr Rakesh Sinha, had no clue about the species that have gone extinct due to setting up of satellite townships like Salt Lake, New Town and Nabadiganta. He said that the records are with the wildlife wing, state forest directorate.
When this correspondent asked Mr SB Mondal, chief wildlife warden, he said that there is no data on the loss of bio-diversity in the state leave alone the city. However, he said that Rhinoceros population in the state has increases 12 times in 26 years, number of Bison has increased 10 times in 21 years and elephant population has jumped 3 times in 20 years. Mr Anirban Roy, research officer, West Bengal Biodiverity Board, said that although they know that many species have been lost due to urbanization, they have no record of it. On being asked about Marsh Mongoose, a threatened species endemic to East Kolkata Wetlands, Mr Roy said that every year many species are lost due to various reasons and they have recently taken up the work to maintain a register record of such species so that they can be preserved.

Poisoned Air
Though Calcutta High Court’s ban on 15-year-old vehicles in the city has slowed the rate of air deterioration, scientists say that the city has reached its limit and any more increase in the number of vehicles can pose serious environmental hazards. It should be noted that the city has highest number of people suffering from lung cancer in the country and is closely followed by New Delhi. Dr Dipak Chakraborty, chief scientist, West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB), said that there has not been any study to relate mortality with air pollution but the city air had a major role to play when it come to cardiovascular or respiratory problems. Though efforts to remove sulphur, lead and benzene from automobile fuel has been successful, aromatics compounds from fuel has still not been phased out. Although many new vehicles can be seen plying on the road, their maintenance is low and after sometime they too are seen emitting smoke.
Dr Chakraborty said that the respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) graph has steadied after the imposition of the ban but it could be the lull before the storm as number of vehicles in the city is increasing at a very fast rate.

Noise pollution
Though city dwellers are quite aware of noise pollution nowadays and never hesitate to lodge complaints with police, loudspeakers blaring out political speeches and slogans invading every household near roads and alleys are often ignored. Officials of the State Pollution Control Board said that though there were a couple of complaints lodged during the parliamentary elections last year, people chose to ignore noise pollution during the civic polls this year. “What is the use of complaining? One of these people who are on the other side of the loudspeaker will be our councillor in the time to come, “ said Nirupa Ghosh, a resident of Ward No 9 in Salt Lake. The pollution control board has studied noise pollution caused by vehicles, during festivals like Diwali and Durga puja, and industries. But they have kept away from pollution caused during political rallies and campaigns. Dr Debasish Chakraborty, scientist, West Bengal Pollution Control Board, said that in the last one year, 44 per cent of mass complaints were registered while 56 per cent complaints were registered by individuals. The complaint number for noise pollution is 033-23358212 but only during festivals.

Global warming
Global Warming is the reason why the city has to put up with unbearable heat in summers, chilly winters and delayed monsoons. According to scientists, 2008, 2009 and 2010 saw fall in solar minima when the temperature was expected to be comparatively low but still the mercury soared during summers which explains that the abnormal warming was due to Carbon-di-oxide.
“It is the period when there is minimum solar flares but still year 2009 was recorded to be the warmest year. Year 2010 has recorded highest temperature in 135 years. The year started with such high temperatures when compared with 1998 and 2005, that it is expected to set new records,” said Dr Sugata Hazra, director of the Jadavpur University’s School of Oceanographic Studies. Global warming has effected the whole climactic circle and this is the reason why monsoons were delayed last year. However, this year it is expected to arrive on time, Dr Hazra said. Dr Hazra also said that abnormal rise in temperature of Bay of Bengal is observed. The Bay of Bengal is warming up at the rate of 0.45 per cent every decade which is quite higher than the 0.2 per cent rate of global warming. “This is why we see such disturbances in the ocean nowadays,” he added.
City students feel that the compulsory subject, Environment Science, in under-graduation courses has done little to create awareness and inform students about environmental hazards. Priyanka Roy, a first-year student of Humanities, said: “We only study environment science before examination. It has almost no effect on students who have become addicted to air-conditioners and electronic gadgets.”
Suparna Saha, a third-year student of Humanities, said that though she does not know what exactly Climate Change is all about, she knows that earth is being exploited to its limit and use of renewable sources of energy should be promoted. Another student, Sudip Gupta, said that people do not use environment-friendly products because they are less attractive and more expensive.
Second year students of Zoology, Arindam Roy and Dibyadeep Chatterjee, said that the biggest problem the city is facing is automobile pollution and water pollution. Dibyadeep also complained about the drainage problem in the city. Arindam said that government phased out old vehicles but most of the dilapidated buses belong to the state government.

Soma Basu

Solar power mandatory for billboards

KOLKATA, 27 MAY: The state environment department today issued a notification making illumination of billboards and hoardings by solar power mandatory throughout the state from 5 June, the World Environment Day.
The notification, in conformity with National Action Plan on climate change and under Environment (Protection) Act and Rules, has been issued to control the greenhouse gas emissions.
The move is to check energy wastage since the billboards are kept on even during night when there is no one to look at them. More than 1.5 KW to 5 KW of energy can be saved per billboard depending on the size. A 5 KW billboard consumes 15 litre diesel.
Mr Biswajit Mukherjee, senior law officer of the West Bengal Pollution Control Board, said: “After 5 June, installation of billboards and hoardings without solar energy will not be allowed. Electricity supply authorities have been directed not to give electrical connection to such billboards and hoardings from 5 June. During power cuts, generators should not be used and we have asked police authorities to see that the order is complied with. Existing billboards will have to switch over to solar power by December. If they continue to use diesel then their licence will not be renewed.”
After 5 June, a meet will be held with the Municipal Corporation and they will be instructed how to implement the order, he added.
“Bangalore and New Delhi have already adopted this and we have been trying to start this in West Bengal. A few advertising agencies had come forward but since the initial expenditure is a bit high, it was difficult to convince business houses,” said Mr SP Gon Chowdhury, CEO of WB Green Energy Development Corporation Ltd.
India has a capacity to generate 800 MW of solar power in which West Bengal contributes 160 MW. A chunk is exported to other countries.
“The state has enough infrastructure to provide solar panels and photovoltaic cells will be put up in all billboards and hoardings across the state. Five companies in the state are manufacturing cells and modules and by October, we will have the capacity to generate 185 MW of solar power,” Mr Gon Chowdhury said. Solar powered billboards and hoardings will have a small panel attached on the top and a compact maintenance free battery at the bottom.

Soma Basu

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