For Harish Chandra, who retired as professor from the Maharishi Dayanand University in the town of Rohtak, Haryana, things have changed a lot since the dayshe used to travel by horse-driven tongas to college. "Now, there are about 6,000 auto-rickshaws," he says. Asserts Jasphool Singh, editor of Paryavaran Vahini, a monthly environmental magazine in Rohtak: "Plenty of condemned three-wheelers from Delhi enter Rohtak every day."
According to him, the town has the highest number of three-wheelers in the state. "Officials are given Rs 3,000 for every condemned three-wheeler entering Rohtak," he points out. Noisy, antiquated, diesel-driven auto-rickshaws have become a common sight on the streets of Rohtak. They are fast replacing non-polluting public conveyances like cyclesand cycle-rickshaws. But the town does not have any air pollution monitoring, and there are no scientific estimates of the pollution levels.
Officials at the regional transport authority (rta) deny any increase in air pollution, saying the pollution level is 'relatively low'. "If vehicles are increasing in number, why would pollution not increase?" asks J S Sangwan, secretary, rta. "These are all signs of development," he adds. The latest official data indicate only 3,690 auto-rickshaws in Rohtak. However, the count could be thrice as much if the rejected ones from Delhi are taken into account, Harish Chandra points out. "Most of these three-wheelers run either on diesel or on diesel mixed with kerosene," Singh explains.
Officials of the Haryana Pollution Control Board (hpcb) are no better than transport officials. "There is no pollution of any sort in Rohtak," asserts O P Dahiya, regional officer of hpcb. However, Singh says there is no way they could be unaware of the numerous polluting industrial units that are functioning illegally in Rohtak. "But money keeps them quiet and they turn a blind eye to all this," he alleges. In particular, he points out to the lead acid battery factories that have sprung up close to the town. "hpcb sealed 11 such units, but some are still operating clandestinely," he says. "When these batteries are broken down and burnt, they emit very high amounts of lead that are 500 times the permissible limit. Workers cannotsurvive for more than six months," he warns.
There are only two hpcb officials to monitor the operations of 180 industrial units in the three districts of Rohtak, Bahadurgarh and Jhajjar. "Checks are conducted only once or twice a year," says S P Rathi, assistant environmental engineer, hpcb, Bahadurgarh. According to him, they have "instructions from authorities to conduct only one or two visits to a particular unit a year". S K Rohilla, senior scientist at hpcb in Chandigarh, says 70 per cent of the industrial units are equipped with air pollution control equipment. "So there is no cause for worry when it comes to industrial pollution," he points out.
However, Sanjay Ahlawat, a journalist from Rohtak now based in Delhi, has a different story: "After the Supreme Court's order asking polluting industrial units to vacate Delhi, most of them moved to the outskirts, taking over agricultural lands. Some reached as far as Rohtak. Now, there are no agricultural lands left." And what happened to the farmers of these lands? "They buy condemned or second-hand vehicles and use them as passenger vehicles to ply in and around Rohtak," says Ahlawat, pointing to the other source of increasing air pollution.
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