THE ENVIRONMENT Ministry has asked major infrastructure agencies, including the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), to implement measures for dust mitigation by March 31 or face suspension of construction work.
In letters sent last month to the heads of NHAI, NBCC and Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), the ministry cited recent rule amendments that make it mandatory for projects needing environment clearance to ensure mitigation of dust.
Speaking to The Indian Express, C K Mishra, Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, said: “We are deeply concerned by the lack of dust mitigation measures. We have requested all major construction agencies like DMRC, NBCC and NHAI to put in place measures as per the recent notification by the end of this month. In case they are not able to do so, we will be constrained to suspend work till dust mitigation measures are put in place.”
Except DMRC, all the other agencies have ongoing projects across the country.
On January 25, the ministry notified an amendment to the environment protection rules making it mandatory for all projects that require clearance to implement dust mitigation measures.
Subsequently, Mishra wrote in a letter sent to DMRC MD Mangu Singh, NHAI chairman Deepak Kumar and NBCC chairman Anoop Mittal: “The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has notified a regulation in this regard recently outlining the measures to be taken for dust mitigation for all construction activities. A copy of the regulation is enclosed for your perusal and necessary action. I request you to ensure the enforcement of dust mitigation measures as elaborated in the regulation.”
The Secretary also spoke to all the three separately to underscore the importance of the deadline. The annual dip in air quality every winter has been the primary reason for the amendment, according to sources in the ministry. “Every day, 131 tonnes of dust is generated in Delhi. That is why every cloudy day, the suspended particulate matter levels shoot through the roof and the air quality in no time touches the ‘poor’ mark,” said sources.
Among the measures listed in the notification are paved roads at construction sites, wind breakers of appropriate height, adequate water sprinkling systems, prohibition of grinding and cutting of building materials in the open area and covering all vehicles carrying construction material and waste.
The rules state: “No building or infrastructure project requiring environmental clearance shall be implemented without approved Environmental Management Plan inclusive of dust mitigation measures.” The rules are applicable in all cities where particulate matter, PM 10 and PM 2.5, exceeds limits prescribed in the National Ambient Air Quality standards.
The annual PM 10 limit is 60 micrograms per metre cube. For PM 2.5 it is 40 micrograms per metre cube. The daily cut-off for both is 100 micrograms per metre cube and 60 micrograms per metre cube, respectively.
In a 2013 article in the Indian Journal of Community Health, researchers from AIIMS said: “Major concerns for human health from exposure to PM 10 include effects on breathing and respiratory systems, damage to lung tissue, cancer and premature death. Elderly persons, children and people with chronic lung disease, influenza or asthma are especially sensitive to the effects of particulate matter.”
In 2015, The Indian Express published a series of reports under the title “Death by Breath”, which showed how dust from construction sites in the national capital region was one of the main reasons contributing to the rise of air pollution and increase in respiratory diseases, especially among children.
Among the remedial measures that were subsequently put in place was a ban on registration of diesel vehicles over 10 years old and the implementation of an odd-even vehicle scheme in Delhi — the odd-even scheme was later scrapped.
Two months ago, failure to check air pollution led to India being ranked the fourth worst country in the world in terms of curbing environmental pollution, according to Environmental Performance Index. India ranked 177 out of 180 countries, in contrast to a rank of 141 two years ago. The EPI rankings were published on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.