The impact of fairs on air quality on and around the Maidan will play a pivotal role in Monday’s crucial hearing on the fate of Book Fair 2007.
As directed by the division bench of Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice K.K. Prasad, the state pollution control board (PCB) will submit a report on air quality in the Maidan area during winter, the season of fairs in Calcutta.
“The PCB report will be the prime factor for the court to settle the issue,” said Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya, city mayor and counsel for the pollution watchdog.
But the numbers, churned out by PCB-installed automatic pollution monitor at Victoria Memorial, are clearly not in favour of a book fair on the Maidan, a proposition backed all the way by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.
Book Fair 2007 is scheduled between January 31 and February 11. Though the Publishers and Booksellers Guild, the organisers, are maintaining that it will be held, they are silent on the venue and the schedule, following the court’s January 25 no-work diktat.
As the legal battle over environment continues, Metro has access to a data set, containing readings on respirable particulate matter (RPM) — respirable dust that causes the most damage to the lungs — on the Maidan during winter. The data proves that fairs are foul for the Maidan:
•15 Jan ’04 to 15 Feb ’04: 257 micrograms per cubic metre
• 15 Jan ’05 to 15 Feb ’05: 268 micrograms per cubic metre
• 15 Jan ’06 to 23 Jan ’06: 288 micrograms per cubic metre
According to established norms, a 100-plus RPM count is the standard.
“If this is the situation at Victoria Memorial, which has a lot of greenery, one can imagine the situation at the Book Fair venue,” said emission expert S.M. Ghosh.
A study conducted by the PCB in 2001 also found an “alarmingly” high RPM count at the fair venue — the average value was 611 micrograms per cubic metre, while the highest reading was 1,316 micrograms per cubic metre.
From sprinkling of water to public announcement of health hazards in the Book Fair zone, a number of steps were planned to counter the menace.
“But the effect of sprinkling water will at best be marginal, as the dust hardly gets the chance to settle… The continuous movement of vehicles is an added problem,” pointed out expert Chiro Dutta, opposing melas on the Maidan.
Not just air quality, the green lobby will also highlight trampling of grass and degradation of soil quality due to construction of temporary toilets. “The fairs were shifted from the ground opposite Victoria Memorial to save the marbles… Then, why shouldn’t the Book Fair be relocated to save the lungs of Calcutta'” asked environmentalist Subhas Dutta.