Agra begins to breathe easy, but clouds linger

Agra begins to breathe easy, but clouds linger

The TTZ is the 10,400 sq km area around the Taj Mahal, comprising over 40 protected monuments, including World Heritage sites like the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri.

The Supreme Court ruling came in 1996 on  public interest litigation (PIL) by M.C. Mehta.
A stroll to Agra's Nunihai and Foundry Nagar industrial estates will provide signs of change that followed sustained assault on air pollution from iron foundries and chemical industries.

"We have indeed come a long way," says Sri Mohan Khandelwal, an auto parts manufacturer, who had led the agitation against Mehta's PIL, as president of the Taj Trapezium Udhyog Sangharsh Samiti.

"The Agra industries were then victims of a conspiracy and false projection of data by interest groups," he says.

But he accepts "modernisation of industries by switching over to natural gas and fuel-efficient technology has been good for everyone. The production of the local units has been steady and efforts are on to diversify."

In the Foundry Nagar area, across the Yamuna, one now hardly sees chimneys belching smoke and fire. The long stretches of green buffers developed by the forest department have come of age and are efficiently absorbing noxious gases.

In neighbouring Firozabad, the bangle city of India, the results have been equally encouraging.

"Two decades ago the whole town was permanently enveloped in a thick cloud of smog, black soot from chimneys burning steam coal round the clock. It was difficult to breathe full and freely," says senior scribe Raghvendra Anjaan.

"But today the sky is clear. The natural gas supplied by GAIL through its pipeline has made a world of difference both to the quantity and quality of output of glass. The workers are in much better ambience," he adds.

However, new threats have emerged that call for urgent attention.The dry river bed and desert like conditions have foiled all attempts to bring down the suspended particulate matter (SPM) which continues to remain alarmingly high in Agra.

"Trees along the Rajasthan border can help control dust and the water in Yamuna can absorb the SPM," says B B Awasthi, a scientist of the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board.

"Agra's green cover has increased to nine percent now, though it is much below the national average required at 33 percent. To create an additional 100 hectares of green cover here has been tough. But we have made headway," claims Divisional Forest Officer N.K. Janoo.

"We want to follow the Delhi model of Hortico-Forestry, combining elements of both. We pay a lot of attention to water and soil conservation before taking up any forestry  project," Janoo adds.

However, Agra remains far from being a clean, unpolluted garden city. The difference one sees now is only in degrees, activists say.

"No one is concerned about checking pollution from garbage dumps, open drains discharging into the Yamuna and the frenzy of construction activity all over the Braj Bhoomi, part of the Taj Trapezium," says Jagan Nath Poddar, convener of Friends of Vrindavan.

All efforts to shift the bus stand from the Bijlighar area, close to the Agra Fort, and the Idgah bus stand to the new ISBT have been stalled.

Also, the cremation ground in the shadow of the Taj Mahal continues to add to the pollution load.

The number of vehicles is rising by the day. There are over 800,000 registered vehicles in the city. Add to it the roughly 10,000 trucks and buses from other states that pass through Agra daily.

The emissions continue to foul air in the city.Now almost a sewage canal, the Yamuna river continues to receive all the industrial effluents and wastes.

"In the last 20 years, around Rs.5,000 crore has been pumped in to develop Agra's infrastructure and fight pollution. Where has all this money gone without showing any discernible results?" wonders D.K. Joshi, eco-activist and member of the Supreme Court monitoring committee.

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