New Delhi: Faced with severe dust pollution in Delhi last week, Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal ordered a ban on all civil construction activities from 15 June to 17 June as an emergency measure. However, construction under various government departments, including Public Works Department (PWD), Central Public Works Department (CPWD) and NBCC India, continued in complete disregard of the ban.
Baijal also ordered the PWD and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee to impose penalties on all road construction agencies for violating norms for dust control.
A study carried out by IIT-Kanpur under the aegis of Delhi government in 2015 said construction activities contribute 2 per cent and 4 per cent of city’s particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) and particulate matter 10 (PM10) to the National Capital Region’s pollution load, respectively. Concrete Batching, which is a construction supporting activity, contributes 6 per cent and 10 per cent of city’s PM2.5 and PM10 pollution load, respectively, too.
The Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority, a Supreme Court-appointed body, chalked out long-term as well as emergency control measures for construction dust, under which responsibilities were given to government bodies in 2017.
Baijal’s emergency measure, however, failed as many construction sites were allegedly operational despite the ban.
The construction of the foot-over bridge at ITO, authorised by the PWD department, carried on for the entire duration of the ban.
“The construction of skywalks was allowed because it’s mostly steelwork so there isn’t much dust generated from that,” said, R.K. Agrawal, PWD engineer–in-chief.
The skywalk project, started in September 2017, is still on, far exceeding its six month completion deadline.
Supreme Court complex
A new building complex for the Supreme Court has been under construction since 2015 on a 12.19 acre plot in Pragati Maidan under the CPWD. The complex is supposed to be a ‘green building’ and will be linked to the existing Supreme Court building via an underpass.
The labourers at the construction zone said the work, including drilling and cementing, didn’t stop during the three-day ban. However, the superintending engineer at CPWD, Dilip Gupta, told ThePrint that the construction work was suspended for the period and only water work was going on.
“We even sprinkled water around seeing the peak in the air pollution level out of our goodwill,” he added.
According to a top CPWD official, the sand particles rising from the construction in the area are too dense to be carried away by the wind and cause air pollution.
Avikal Somvanshi, architect and urban data scientist, Centre for Science and Environment, called this claim technically incorrect.
“The dust that is generated is of different types. There is fine dust as well as coarse dust. Although the sand particles don’t travel much with the wind, there are finer particles in the sand as well, there isn’t just one size. That will travel,” he said.
Somvanshi further explained that cement particles, a primary material for construction, are much finer and travel long distances. “The same applies to stone cutting. If not done properly, the dust becomes airborne which is very problematic,” he said.
“When the dust storms passed through Delhi last week, there was already so much dust in the city air coming from west Rajasthan…When the city decided to shut down construction activities, it was to reduce your own load so that the natural phenomena can get a little more space and get diluted,” he added.
The redevelopment project of the India Trade Promotion Organisation complex at Pragati Maidan, undertaken by Shapoorji Pallonji on a NBCC contract, has been going on for several months now.
An NBCC spokesperson said, “These three days, we did not do any construction work. Complying with government’s instructions, we kept the construction on hold.”
The workers from the construction site told ThePrint otherwise, saying all kinds of construction work took place throughout the week.
Asked about this, the NBCC spokesperson said, “Maybe the labourers were not able to recollect the days the construction didn’t take place.”
The air quality of Pragati Maidan area on 15 June fared “very poor”, with the main pollutant being PM10. Four per cent of city’s PM10 pollution comes from construction work.