Cries of anguish

Most Indians are defenceless against the fine toxic particles in the air -- largely products of vehicular emissions -- and scientists are finding newer and deadlier things about pollution. Surprisingly, this is not confined to metropolitan cities. Evidence of the growing anguish over pollution has poured in from across the country in response to the Centre for Science and Environment director Anil Agarwal's article "Pollution is snuffing us out" carried in Down To Earth and The Hindu recently. A selection from the 125-odd letters received:

 
Last Updated: Sunday 28 June 2015

-- You had mentioned in your article about the attitude and the activities of Indian politicians, officials and the persons responsible for causing pollution. The problem we are facing is a classic example of the above. We have been fighting for the past year to get justice and three of our writ petitions in the Chennai High Court are yet to be taken up.

More than 50 letters written to various ministers and government departments by the 'Environment Protection Committee' have failed to evoke any response. We have written two letters dated July 16, 1999 and September 29, 1999 to the regional director, Central Ground Water Board, South Eastern Coastal region, Chennai. We had also written letters dated August 18, 1999 and September 21, 1999 to the Central Pollution Control Board, New Delhi. However, there has been no response from either of them. To explain this matter in person, we had also sought an appointment with the governor of Tamil Nadu vide our faxes dated February 11 and 16, 1999, letter dated February 16, 1999 and telegrams dated January 4 and 8, 2000 but a similar fate awaited them.

Without understanding the importance of waterbodies in the state, Tamil Nadu's revenue minister issued a government order to convert a lake into a compost yard. The local administration minister, despite public opposition, supports the destruction of lakes, treating the matter according to personal whims. The public works minister has announced in the assembly that the government is considering a proposal to utilise unused lakes for other purposes. More than a thousand people undertook a fast to highlight the far-reaching consequences of the proposal but it is deeply distressing to note that the chief minister has chosen to turn a deaf ear in the matter. If the powers-that-be are careless and are unconcerned about the present generation, we shudder to think about the future.

Finally, we have sent one 'Model Report' on January 19, 2000 to the president, prime minister, minister for water resources, chairperson Central Ground Water Board, and chairperson, Central Pollution Control Board. Getting no response on these environmental matters, I have taken a year to gather a small amount of information regarding the above problem.

I sincerely hope that our relationship will be of great help for our present and future generation in respect to taking up the problems faced by us in our state. A copy of the report is now sent to you. If the following information is furnished it will strengthen our case:

lAny information, other than those mentioned in the 'Model Report, which will give a boost to our case;

lDetails of specific and important Supreme Court rulingsin respect to the environment and protection of waterbodies;

lDetails of books dealing with the subject so as to develop our knowledge;

lDetails of officials in Delhi who are interested in the issue;

lNames and addresses of advocates/advocates associations who provide free service in respect of filing the related cases in the Supreme Court;

lMethods to obtain brochures/pamphlets from the United Nations Environment Programme;

lRules regarding how loans for environment programmes can be obtained and other facilities availed of from the United Nations and the World Bank; and

lYour advice, if any.

- V G Venkatesan
Sri Chamundeswari, Redhills Road,
Kallikuppam, Ambattur, Chennai
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It is indeed quite interesting to peruse the data you have presented on air pollution in various cities. I am in the final semester of MSc (Environmental Science and Technology) from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University (JNTU), Hyderabad. I have studied various topics in my course like air pollution and its control technologies, wastewater treatment technologies, environmental chemistry, hazardous waste management, etc. Though I have a very good theoretical background, I have never had a chance to apply my technical expertise and mental calibre practically.

You may be aware that Hyderabad also ranks among the country's most polluted cities. Heavy traffic can be seen on every road. If you go to Secunderabad station after 7 pm, your eyes will be filled with tears, not because of the pathetic condition of old people who are unable to cross the road, but because of the pollution from the vehicles. You just cannot see the sky at that hour because of the emissions from vehicles, which form a layer of smog six metres thick. This is no exaggeration. I have studied inversions in my first semester and I have been fortunate to observe the phenomenon in Hyderabad. I am from Kurnool district, which is a clean and pollution-free place compared to Hyderabad. When I came here to do my postgraduate course, I thought of doing something to control the pollution. It is no easy task for a person to single-handedly attempt to control air pollution, especially from vehicles and industries. This I was to realise later. No doubt the government has formulated air and water pollution prevention acts. But how many people are really observing the law? Is there any regulatory body to monitor all this?

At Hyderabad, many industries have not even set up an effluent treatment plants (ETP). For my final semester I have selected a project entitled "Evaluation of quality of ground and surface water along Nakkavagu stream" (near Patancheru industrial area). Patancheru is considered the most polluted area after Jeedimetla, Hyderabad. There are around 300-350 industries in Patancheru area alone and they are releasing untreated effluents into the stream, which ultimately joins the river Manjira, a major source of drinking water for the twin cities. The surface water is orange in colour and foul-smelling and has polluted the groundwater.

I have analysed the samples in detail and will present the findings in my final viva-voce exam. I have also interviewed the people in the villages near the Nakkavagu. They say that as they have municipal drinking water they do not care or need to complain about the polluted stream.

What India is lacking today is neither the technology nor the imported instruments but lack of awareness among people about pollution and it affects. Why are the central and state pollution control boards (CPCB and SPCB) turning a blind eye to these important issues?

Our beloved chief minister has developed the information technology industry and shortly Hyderabad will be called 'Cyberabad'. But is it enough? Is it sufficient to keep our city clean without any garbage? Who will take care of air and water pollution? Sir, I am immensely satisfied with the knowledge that I am going to get a first class with distinctions very shortly. At the same time I am dissatisfied that the practical applicability in my related field is nil.

Though I have read many articles about pollution in papers and magazines, your article made me think deeply and decide to do something for my country and so I am writing this letter immediately. If there is any thing I can do about the abovesaid topics, please, please don't hesitate to write to me. My service is always available at any time and any place. Lastly, I wish our country stands first in the list of environmentally clean countries in the world.

-- Vishnupriya Gadepalle
30-70/8/1A, Bank Colony, Ramakrishna Puram,
Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh

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I would like to talk about our place in which the air and water is completely polluted. In our area the South India Viscose Company is manufacturing viscose pulp and rayon yarn. The company has been releasing wastewater into the Bhavani river but due to a public outcry and court orders the company was shut down for three years.

The company had recently bought about 121.5 hectares of land near our village and is using it for agricultural purpose. However, the land is being irrigated with the company's wastewater. Now the company has re-opened and is functioning round-the-clock. We are all facing the following problems:

lirritation in the eyes due to the presence of sulphur in the air;

lthreat from chemical and gaseous emissions which could have a detrimental affect upon everyone, especially the younger generation;

ldegradation of the soil and contamination of groundwater by wastewater;

llack of potable water as the well water has become coloured and tastes foul; and

lwastewater stagnation on low-level land forming ponds.

Besides, we do not know how many problems could still indirectly affect our lives. The people are also fighting pollution. But the company has employed some poor people to work in their fields and factory. This has weakened the people's attack against the company.

On the other hand, even the state pollution control board and politicians are unwilling to solve our problems. I want to save our lives and lands. Please assist us inour mission.

- O Rajendran
6B Sittapalayman, Pethikuttai Post, P Puliampatti,
Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu
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Apropos your concern for clean air and a pollution-free environment, I hope that this letter is proof of my desire to do something constructive to conserve and preserve the environment from the menace called "pollution".

I, a resident of Ranchi, in the green forest belt of 'south Bihar', have noticed a sharp rise in factors contributing to air and water pollution in the past couple of years. Some areas of concern are the rise in vehicular pollution, lack of effluent treatment plants (ETPS) in industrial establishments, dumping of refuse in small and seasonal rivers, no water treatment plants despite a sharp increase in population, and, lastly, deforestation.

The situation in Ranchi can be handled only by preventive measures not curative ones. It is high time that something is done to protect the area from environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity, because prevention is always better than cure.

I hope that you can suggest ways to initiate a process to save Ranchi utilising my professional capabilities and my abilities as a layperson, too. I am a final year law student and could have been of great help in restoring the past had I been a full-fledged lawyer today. But keeping in view the facts and circumstances, I will take your guidance and help to do what I can do today.

-- Praveen Akhauri
Usha Kiran Road No. 11, Hawai Nagar, Khunti Road, Ranchi (Bihar)
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I am an architect, residing at Indore. I'll be obliged if you can inform me of anything positive or constructive, which I can undertake in my town.

Earlier, Indore was a very green city. But with increasing population, industrialisation and number of vehicles, the groundwater level fell - progressively making the land barren. Now newly-planted trees take much longer to mature and even then, they don't achieve their natural density of foliage.

We have a couple of freshwater tanks from which the entire city was supplied water in earlier days. But with a decrease in the annual rainfall and increase in population combined with silting, these tanks are not proving sufficient.

In their election promises, politicians have stated that they will bring Narmada river water to the town. But I'm curious to know whether the existing water tanks can be made self-sufficient for the city's needs.

Secondly, citizens in Indore lack awareness or concern for environmental problems. I shall be grateful if I can get an address of a local organisation with which I can get myself affiliated for any sort of activity.

I believe something positive can be done even in the absence of political initiatives. But changes can only happen if individuals who have the right attitude are involved.

-- Abhishek Bhor
229Indrapuri Colony, Indore
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The article excellently covers the causes and effects and hurdles in the control of pollution. I feel strongly about the problem of pollution and want to do something about it in my hometown.

Let me first introduce myself. I have done a masters in business administration - specialising in finance - and am employed with General Electric (Capital). I live in Barauni which is surrounded by three giant public sector companies - Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), Hindustan Fertiliser Corporation (HFC) and National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC). My family lives in the HFC township. Over the years, the quality of living has undergone a considerable change which has been attributed to the rise in air and water pollution.

All three industrial units release a number of toxic gases into the atmosphere. As a result, the number of heart and cancer patients are increasing in our township everyday. The pollution levels in Barauni have never been checked, so how can you think of controlling it.

I have two questions for you. First, whether airconditioningtioning reduces air pollution to a minimum. I have heard that chlorofluorocarbons have been replaced by other compounds which do not destroy the ozone layer. So now existence in an ac environment like a room or car can save us from air pollution. Is this true?

The second question is: how can I reduce the level of toxic gases in the air in my home town so that our future generation can breathe clean air. I shall be thankful if you could provide some answers as soon as possible.

- --Bhawna Kumari C/o Mr. B N Das
Quarter No. 3B-180, PO Barauni Urvarak Nagar, Begusarai, Bihar
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I am ashamed to tell you that I belong to one of the most polluted cities of India. Yes, Ahmedabad is one of the cities worst affected by pollution. The number of vehicles in the city outnumber the population. We take pride in having the largest number of women driving two-wheelers in India. The river Sabarmati, passing through the city, is one of the dirtiest rivers. I have personally experienced a burning sensation in my eyes when moving out on the main roads after 6 pm. But for the moment nothing, whatsoever, is being done to oppose this menace. Occasionally, there are reports in the newspapers, but they are soon forgotten.

I desire to do something to awaken the people to the dangers posed by this menace for the following reasons:

lI have been a victim of pollution myself. Four years ago, during my second last year in service, I started getting tired frequently and without explanation. No doctor in Ahmedabad could diagnose the problem. Ultimately, it affected my lungs and the intake of oxygen became irregular. Later, doctors in Mumbai diagnosed the problem as pollution as I was never addicted to wine or tobacco and my work place was neat and clean (AIR Ahmedabad and Doordarshan Ahmedabad). My guess is, that I must have been affected during the nine years of air service, because it is located near the Income Tax junction, which has been considered the most polluted place in Ahmedabad because of the thousands of vehicles passing the spot.

lI am a retired person and can definitely spare some time for such work.

lI feel adequate efforts are not being made to raise the alarm against the menace.

lThe possibility of the authorities conniving with those who are responsible cannot be ruled out.

I will be glad to do something, within my limitations of health and time, to prevent the menace.

-- Digant K Dave
Retd. Joint Director (News), Doordarshan, Ahmedabad
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I am a fourth-year law student studying at the Kerala Law Academy, Thiruvananthapuram. Four years ago, I got involved with the animal welfare organisation, People for Animals, developed a concern for animal rights and became a strict vegetarian. Recently, I began to see things in a different perspective, and became aware of the fact that the right of humans to live in a clean and healthy environment is a much more important issue. I started going through articles concerning environmental issues and, being a law student, came across the various M C Mehta and other environment related cases. Now, I intend to pursue my masters degree in environmental law from Delhi.

Indeed, it is high time that we wake up to the reality that we are making our environment, as you have said, "a living hell" for the coming generations. Something that bothers me most is non-biodegradable plastic waste. Plastic bags have been banned, but the ban hasn't been taken seriously. Moreover, if plastic is to be taken out of use completely, we should have other alternatives. For instance, while on a train journey, how can you avoid the use of disposable plastic glasses and, of course, mineral water bottles? These days many people take their own water bottles while travelling? It might seem funny, but I have stopped drinking tea or coffee because there is no other way to avoid the use of these plastic glasses. I carry a bottle of water with me for my three-hour weekend train journey.

Recently, I saw a TV programme, about the environmental pollution caused in the Sabarimala area by pilgrims. There were vast areas of garbage (mainly plastics) and animal carcasses floating in the water. These annual pilgrimages to Sabarimala are polluting the beautiful Pamba river to an unimaginable extent.

What about the pollution caused by vehicles? The number of private vehicles on the road are increasing rapidly every day (and, of course, there are the big car companies bringing out new models every month for the upper class to try out! What about the Euro II norms?) But this is probably because the standard of our public transport system is very poor?

I have read about countries where, to avoid pollution from vehicles, the use of private vehicles is regulated. But the public transport systems in those countries is extremely efficient. Mere checking of exhaust pipes of vehicles and getting a pollution control certificate is not going to reduce the air pollution caused by vehicles.

The Supreme Court has ordered the closure of many industries near the Taj Mahal and the Ganga. But we have more and more industries coming up every day and which pollution control board would dare to touch the big polluting industries? You have pointed out very clearly to, "the extremely strong polluter-politician-bureaucrat nexus".

So what do we do to save our environment, ourselves and the future generations from the grip of this deadly killer called pollution? Maybe, we need more stringent laws; more effective and honest pollution control boards; and, of course, a stronger people's movement (not one like those organisations and movements which die out after the initial enthusiasm wanes and without achieving their goals) to kickstart a "save the nature" process. Then, maybe, we could dream of our India as a land of vast natural beauty where humans and animals peacefully coexist and respect mother nature.

-- Sheeba Simon
Campus Hostel, Peroorkaoa, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

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