Air pollution control in Kolkata has turned a full circle in 12 years.
During the winter of 2022-23, Victoria Memorial was the most polluted part of Kolkata, with a pollution level that exceeded the national permissible limit by more than 150 per cent, says a report recently published by the Center for Science and Environment (CSE) on the basis of central pollution control board data.
In 2010, the Book Fair was moved from the Maidan following a judicial order that aimed to prevent the burgeoning air pollution in the area from damaging the adjacent Victoria Memorial.
The shift is considered a watershed moment and a landmark in air pollution control in Kolkata.
According to the CSE report, the average PM2.5 level at the British-built memorial between October 2022 and February 2023 was 96 micrograms per cubic metre of air, the highest among the seven points in the city where the central pollution control board recorded air pollution.
The ultrafine PM2.5 is one of the most toxic air pollutants that can penetrate deep into the lungs and trigger a series of ailments, including fatal ones. The national PM2.5 limit is 60 micrograms per cubic metre.
“Victoria Memorial was particularly problematic in winters. At an annual level, Rabindra Bharati University was the most polluted, but the Memorial overtook it in the winter months,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director of the CSE and the report lead. The report found that the Memorial’s pollution has increased in recent times — the average level was below 90 micrograms per cubic metre in the two preceding winters.
Long wait for preventive steps
Environment activist Subhas Datta, the petitioner in the Victoria Memorial air pollution case that was started in 2002, alleged that several measures directed by the high court more than a decade back are yet to be implemented. “Several court directives to control the pollution around the Memorial are yet to see the light of the day. The directive to create a green channel in the vicinity of the Memorial, so that the traffic does not aggravate pollution, has not been implemented by the police. The bus stand could not be shifted from Babughat despite orders being issued many years back,” said Datta.
A senior official in the state environment department admitted that congestion on the Maa flyover, also close to the Victoria Memorial, and the plying of goods vehicles plays a key role in increasing the pollution in the area.
“I feel that the south-bound dust storms that originate in the Maidan area, triggered by wind from the north during the winter months, also affect the pollution around the Memorial,” said Kalyan Rudra, chairman of the state pollution control board.
“Several parts of the Maidan are barren and hence dust-filled. The Indian Army, the custodian of the Maidan, and the state government should make the Maidan greener and sprinkle water on it to arrest this surge in pollution,” said an environmentalist.
“The SSKM hospital is nearby and it also gets affected by this high pollution. Hence, the government should take immediate steps to control air pollution around the area,” said physician Dulal Bose, former sheriff of Kolkata and the president of the civil society environmental platform, Sabuj Mancha.