Agra: the beauty and the beast
The Taj Mahal is not the only thing monumental about Agra, so is the rising level of air pollution. Although data published by the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (uppcb) shows a decline in spm levels in the city between 1991 and 1994, it has steadily increased thereafter. Emissions from 70,000 generators used as a result of daily power shortages, increasing number of three-wheelers running on diesel and emissions from the Mathura Oil Refinery continue to be the major sources of high levels of spm in Agra.
The closure of 212 coal-based industrial units in 1993 and shifting out of a thermal power plant are possible reasons for the decline in spm levels between 1991 and 1994. But the reasons for the increase in pollution from 1994 to 1996 are not clear. Part of the blame goes to the frequent use of generators due to severe electricity shortages after the coal-based thermal power plant was shifted out.
Residents of Agra are of the opinion that the number of vehicles in the city have increased alarmingly over the past few years, although no data could be obtained on this. They blame diesel-run three-wheelers known as "Vikrams' that are the main source of public transport. One of the largest manufacturers of these vehicles is the Lucknow-based government-owned Scooters India Ltd (sil). A surprise test conducted on new vehicles out of the sil factory by the uppcb revealed that emissions from 15-20 per cent of the "Vikrams' were in violation of the minimal requirements of environmental safety. Government authorities also come in for flak for not dealing with vehicular air pollution effectively. The pollution under control (puc) certificates for vehicles can be obtained for a paltry fee of Rs 20 without taking the vehicles to the checking centre.
"On paper, the cpcb says that pollution has decreased. I don't know about scientific data, but judging by the health of my patients, I say that the level of pollution has definitely gone up,' says Deepak Goyal, a physician in Agra. "The numbers and the severity of asthma cases has increased, as have cases of respiratory diseases, allergies and chronic bronchitis.'
The views of residents indicate that hardly any steps have been taken to solve the problem of air pollution. And the steps taken have either been inadequate or have led to other problems. For example, the coal-based thermal power station has been shifted out of Agra. This has given rise to frequent power cuts thereby increasing the use generators. The Mathura refinery, located about 40 km north-west of Agra, has been dogged by controversy ever since it started functioning. "I feel the Mathura refinery surely contributes to air pollution in Agra. I have seen the Taj for the last 20 years and have noticed that the colour has definitely changed