The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hi-tech eyesore in heritage backyard

A huge, hi-tech contraption has surfaced on the Victoria Memorial grounds. Around 25 feet from where the chairs for the son-et-lumiere are laid out is a 10 ft-by-six ft box on a cement platform.

This is not an addition to the evening show. It has been installed by the Pollution Control Board (PCB) to monitor the air quality around the heritage structure. The grey machine, now such an eyesore, will be functional in a month or so, and is to be covered by marble, masked by columns and walls.

“This is a continuous monitoring system, imported from France,” explains Hirak Ghosh, environment secretary. The “fully-automated” machine, with a Rs 1-crore price tag, is part one of the projects implemented with Japanese funds. Another such machine has been fitted at Rabindra Bharati University’s Jorasanko campus. “We want to keep a check on the ambient air-quality of the heritage sites,” explains Ghosh.

But the PCB has not yet decided what it will do with the findings and environmental watchdogs are sceptical of the project. “What will they do, once they have the results from the project'” asks Bonani Kakkar of People United for Better Living in Calcutta (PUBLIC), which had been called in as consultant before the installation. “They could have used the funds to address the existing problems increased by the construction of the flyover.”

What the machine does, instead, is increase the “visual pollution” on the grounds. The PCB claims that it could not have been installed elsewhere. “Why not keep it on the grounds'” asks Ghosh. “We want to measure the pollutants so we can then decide on a plan of action.”

The machine could not have been placed on the Maidan, as it posed a “security risk” and “a policeman would have to be posted all the time”, adds Ghosh, who is also PCB chairman.

The Board also insists that the machine, being situated behind the light-and-sound area, is out of the direct line of vision. A contractor has been commissioned to create the marble façade to help it blend in with the Victoria ambience. But while Victoria officials said it is “a temporary fixture”, according to the PCB it is here to stay.

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