Published: Monday 30 November 1998


Garbage dump: Aligarh is drown (Credit: Arvind Yadav /CSE)ALIGARH
Aligarh was among the six districts chosen for the Green Revolution along with Ludhiana in the 1980s. The Green Revolution happened and Aligarh, like many other towns, went on to bigger things like rapid and unplanned industrialisation. In the process, the town underwent a drastic change due to incessant pollution. Today, it is a town of dirty river and nauseating nullahs, clogged streets, overflowing drains and is constantly shrouded with a haze of polluted air.

Aligarh is the most important centre for locksmithyy and monopolises the industry. There are around 1,500 registered industrial units employing around 7,000 people and 6,000 units in the unregistered sector employ about 70,000 people. A single lock-making factory produces around 300 locks a day. The metal grinding and polishing in lock-related industries puts out huge amounts of hazardous particles in the air. The fumes from acid used in the lock industry is another pollutant and could be the cause of severe respiratory problems.

The work of polishing the metal pieces is one of the dangerous jobs that form part of the lock industry. Rusted pieces of metal are polished on buffing machines, the bobs of which are covered with emery powder. The piece is held by hand against the bob and the rusted portion is polished off. The worker's face is within 25 centimetres of the rotating machines. The workers have little choice but to inhale the emery powder and metal dust. In spray painting units, substantial quantities of toxic gases from zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, iron oxide and cadmium compounds in paints and paint thinners are inhaled by workers.

Highly acidic water from the polishing and electroplating industries, have ruined the freshwater ponds of Aligarh. Heavy construction activity has also ensured the shrinking of the ponds every year thus increasing the acid concentration. The historic Achal talab (pond) dries up every summer.

A trip through the innards of the city gives one the impression that the town is one huge garbage dump. A World Bank-aided project for garbage clearance is not being managed efficiently in yet another case of money for civic amenities being misused. Highways that lead to and from the town, areas near the railway station and even the so-called plush localities like the Civil Lines are littered with garbage. The municipality employs 1,000 people for garbage collection but, according to a municipal corporation official, they need at least three times the number of people to handle the deluge of garbage.

The town of Aligarh extends three to five km beyond the periphery. The expansion has been at the cost of agricultural land. Colonies located in these areas are not provided with any infrastructure as municipalities do not regulate them (see table: Land transfer).

There are no signs yet of any concerted effort being put together to stem Aligarh's decline into absolute filth. In the near future visitors might comment that Aligarh has gone down the drain - lock, stock and barrel.

Land transfer
Land withdrawn from agriculture in villages surrounding Aligarh during 1985-95

Use for which withdrawn Area in hectares(ha) Number of villages affected
Industry 274 8
Kept vacant 107 10
Borrow pits 86 29
Brick kilns 63 16

"I don't remember when this garbage pile was removed last," says Amit Maitra, who stays near the busy Moshak Chowk in Bihar's Bhagalpur town. The problem with Bhagalpur is that many people there do not remember when anything was done in this town. For instance, an underground sewage system constructed in 1994 is still waiting to be commissioned. Few government officials from the lowly clerk to the mighty district collector seem to have any clue as to what is happening in the town. "Even if you find the file it is no use. The population statistics are bogus, calculated without a field survey," remarked a cynical clerk in the corporation office when a CSE correspondent requested for data on the city's population. "In the last 12 years, I don't think I have even visited a construction site," said a site supervisor in the Bhagalpur Regional Development Authority.

This general sense of gloom and apathy pervades the government offices and is symptomatic of how the town with a population of over 253,000 is run . Bhagalpur and its surroundings have rich groundwater resources. The average annual rainfall in the region varies between 1,250 mm to 1,350 mm. Most of the time there is power in the town for only half-a-day which hampers the growth of industries. Though Bhagalpur does not demand large-scale expansion since its population growth is not phenomenal, there is a marginal growth in construction activity in the nearby areas. Cropped lands in the nearby villages are frequently being converted into vegetable and dairy farms to cater to the needs of the town.

Traffic snarl-ups are the rule rather than the exception in this south Bihar town and hence air pollution is high. Badly maintained and overloaded autorickshaws contribute a lot to the congestion of the roads. Most of these rickshaws designed to carry three passengers carry five or six people.

Among the towns surveyed, Bhagalpur can be said to have the most primitive civic facilities with nearly 40 per cent of dwellings continuing the practice of nigbt-soil disposal using human scavengers. Under the Ganga Action Plan, a sum of Rs 1.80 crore was spent on a treatment plant and underground pipes were laid to lead drain water to the plant. But the plant has never been functional and drainage water still flows to low-lying areas of the town. Even solid wastes are not collected or disposed efficiently. It is no wonder then that groundwater shows high level of contamination. For a town swathed in such unsolvable civic problems, lack of good drinking water and congested roads is just a minor glitch.

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