Air pollution: Smog towers in Delhi fail spectacularly

Delhi’s AQI hovered between severe to hazardous in Nov as the ambitious smog tower put up at CP failed to make a difference even as public debate raged over Delhi Govt’s ad-spend on pollution control

Hoarding in Delhi
Hoarding in Delhi

NHS Correspondent/Delhi

Quoting an RTI activist, a newspaper last Sunday reported that Delhi Government had spent Rs.940 crore in the last seven years on publicity for campaigns against pollution, but would not divulge how much money it spent on measures to curb pollution. The very next day the newspaper retracted the report, saying that it had erroneously given out the figure. The actual ad spend was Rs.57 crore. The terse retraction did not mention the RTI activist, Amit Gupta, reply to whom had formed the basis of the original report.

Different media at different times have reported different figures as Delhi Government’s expenditure on advertisements. While Union Minister Prakash Javadekar had alleged that the Delhi Government had spent Rs 1,500 crore in advertising, other media reports held that this year’s advertising budget of the Delhi Government is to the tune of Rs.457 crore. A report in The Times of India in April maintained that in the first three months of the year, Delhi Government had splurged Rs.150 crore on advertisements.

But whatever be the amount spent on publicity, Delhi chief minister’s grandiose schemes to control air pollution seem to have come a cropper. Air pollution spiked in November and Delhi was singled out to have the most hazardous Air Quality Index, calculated on the basis of six pollutants.

The multi-crore smog tower at Connaught Place that chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had inaugurated in August this year made little difference to the air quality, exacerbated by firecrackers used in defiance of the ban.

The 24-metre-high tower, an air purifier of sorts, recorded the PM2.5 concentration at 642 micrograms per cubic metre at the inlet and 453 micrograms per cubic metre at the outlet at 9 pm on November 4. The safe limit for the lung-damaging particles PM2.5 is 60 micrograms per cubic metre.

The so-called smog tower reportedly cost the Delhi Government over Rs.20 crore, including two years of operating cost paid possibly upfront. It had taken a year and a half for constructing the tower. The tower is said to purify air in a one-km radius around the structure. A similar tower is also coming up at Anand Vihar.

Former Delhi Minister Haroon Yusuf termed the smog tower project “hogwash”. “Kejriwal is just trying to fool people with such gimmicks. These towers don’t clean air in even half a kilometre. And the cost is rather high. Instead of addressing the root causes, he has been coming up with such nonsense as odd-even scheme, On-off, smog towers, Green App etc. But he has done nothing to strengthen the public transport system. The DTC fleet has depleted to just 2,100-odd buses when ideally there should be 7,000 buses in Delhi,” Haroon Yusuf told National Herald.

“Roads are not being swept properly. There are mounds of rubble on the roads at so many places. You can’t blame stubble burning all the time. Kejriwal is only busy splurging public money on advertisements and hogging publicity with gimmicks,” he added.

Sunil Dahiya of the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air points out that scientists have been saying that there is no evidence or data globally to vouch that smog towers are effective. “Any further wastage of money on such structures should be stopped immediately,” he said.

An expert holds that it’s an uphill task to suck dust out of the air in tropical places. In winter, the layers of dust hang at around 800 metres above the ground, thus rendering a 24-metre or even higher smog towers useless.

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