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Air pollution affecting India’s glistening Golden Temple

It's unclear how much replacing the gold plating would cost, but it would surely be high

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Golden Temple, Amritsar Image: Wikimedia commons

The chronic air pollution blanketing much of northern India is now threatening the holiest shrine in the Sikh religion, making the once-gleaming walls of the Golden Temple dingy and dull.

There is little to be done short of replacing the 430-year-old temple’s gold-plated walls — an expensive project already undertaken more than a century ago and then again in 1999.

To cut down on pollution, environmentalists and religious leaders have launched a campaign that includes persuading farmers to stop burning spent crops to clear their fields, removing industry from the area and cutting back on traffic. A community kitchen called a “langar” that serves up to 100,000 people free meals every day at the temple is also switching from burning wood to cooking with gas.

But so far the campaign hasn’t had much impact, with change happening slowly and still no pollution monitoring equipment installed.

“As far as pollution goes, we are paying attention,” said Jaswant Singh, environmental engineer at the State Pollution Control Board, a government regulatory authority. “We are in the process of procuring equipment so that we can check the pollution area, pollution from every source on a day-to-day basis.”

Golden Sikh  Temple, Amritsar. Image: VOA
Image: VOA

Indian Sikh devotees clean the tank early in the morning at the Golden Temple, on the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru in Amritsar, India. The chronic air pollution is now threatening the holiest shrine in the Sikh religion making the once-gleaming walls of the Golden Temple dingy and dull.

Related article: Is it right for Sikhs to oppose the inclusion of Golden Temple in World Heritage Site list?

Officials have also banned burning trash or cooking with certain fuels in restaurants and communities nearby, but enforcement so far remains weak. The city also wants to build an electricity station to stop people from using diesel-fueled generators, but Singh could not say when that might happen.
“The pollution degrading the Golden Temple is growing,” said environmental activist Gunbir Singh, who heads a group called Eco Amritsar. “We need to do a hell of a lot of work to protect the holy city status of this city.”

It’s unclear how much replacing the gold plating would cost, but it would surely be high.

“This is gold. The cost would be huge, but still would not be a problem,” Gunbir Singh said, suggesting Sikh devotees would rally behind the cause if needed. “Most of the activity that goes on there is based on donations — people will take off their bangles and rings and leave them if work needs to be done.”

Thousands of Sikh devotees and tourists every day visit Amritsar, the main city in Punjab state, to see the 17th century shrine, surrounded by a moat known as the “pool of nectar,” or “Sarovar,” and housing the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib. Most of the world’s 27 million Sikhs, whose monotheistic religion originated in Punjab in the 15th century, live in India.

The country suffers some of the world’s worst air pollution, thanks to a heavy reliance on burning coal for electricity, diesel in cars and power generators, and kerosene and cow dung for cooking and lighting homes. Heavy construction amid a decade-long economic boom has also kicked up huge clouds of dust, and farmers still regularly clear their fields with fire, sending even more black carbon into the air.

The capital of New Delhi was named by the WHO as the world’s most polluted city, while Amritsar — about 390 kilometers (240 km) to the north — was ranked India’s ninth most polluted.

The Golden Temple is not the only major monument to be affected by pollution. The white marbled Taj Mahal has also become dirty from pollution from the nearby city of Agra, and every few years, workers from the Archaological Survey of India place mud packs on its walls to keep them from turning yellow and brown.

But many across the country remain unaware of the risks in breathing unhealthy air, even as scientists warn it is sickening countless Indians every year. About 1.4 million Indians were killed by illnesses related to air pollution in 2013, according to a recent study by researchers at the University of British Colombia, in Vancouver.

That tally will only rise unless pollution levels are drastically curbed, experts have said. Instead, the pollution is getting worse, according to NASA satellite images revealing particulate matter in the air. An analysis last month by the environmental group Greenpeace showed the overall concentration of PM2.5 — the tiny lung-clogging particulate matter suspended in the air — increasing 13 percent from 2010 to 2015.

With pollution fast damaging the Golden Temple, some in the Sikh heartland said they were reminded of their religious duty to protect nature.

“Our holy book teaches us that the air is the teacher, the water is the father and the earth is the mother. So we have to be mindful of all the elements of nature as true Sikhs,” the environmentalist Gunbir Singh said.

Authorities plan to ban vehicles from the area immediately surrounding the shrine. “Even the devotees will have to come on foot,” said Harcharan Singh, who heads the Shrimoni Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee, which oversees the six major Sikh temples across India.

But efforts have been slow, and officials admit so far incomplete.

Sikh preacher Baba Sewa Singh said he and his devotees have tried to help mitigate the pollution threat by planting more than 100,000 trees in the region.

“If anyone asks about the saplings,” he said, “we plant then for free in their villages.” (VOA)

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Question Mark over Airtel Delhi Half Marathon amidst Rising Pollution Levels; Will the Event Shift to a New Window?

The Indian Medical Association had called for cancellation of the event a few days ago

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Airtel Delhi Half Marathon
Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM) is an annual half marathon foot-race held in New Delhi, India (representative image) Pixabay

New Delhi, November 10, 2017 : The alarming levels of pollution in the national capital has forced the organisers of the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon to consider shifting the event to a new window.

“There is a possibility to shift this event to a new window… we may organize the event earlier or later. We have the option of the alternative window. We will discuss with our stakeholders and see which will the best window for the event,” said Vivek Singh, Joint Managing Director of the Procam International, the organizers of the event, here on Thursday.

A few days ago, Airtel, who have been one of the prime sponsors of the event for the last nine years, also threatened to pull out of the annual event citing pollution levels in the city but however, came out in support of the organizers on Thursday.

“As always, we will continue to support the event. It is great to see the fantastic response to the call for registration for Airtel Delhi Half Marathon,” said Ravi Negi, CEO of Bharti Airtel, Delhi NCR.

Singh also asserted the foreign athletes have gone back satisfied with the conditions in previous editions of the event.

“All foreign participants are aware of the situation and will participate. Last year, Rio Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge won the event in almost similar conditions and returned without complains,” he said.

“You cannot cancel an international event so easily. Athletes are preparing since last many months and there is no question of cancelling the event.”

The Indian Medical Association had called for cancellation of the event a few days ago but Singh said the event will go on as planned.

“They have issued a warning and they are right. It is a concern but we still have 10 days to go and air quality might improve,” he said.

“To reduce the pollutants, roads will be sprayed and treated with salt water and all vehicles will be off roads 12 hours prior to the event, and hopefully improved air conditions will bring better running experience for the participants.” (IANS)

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Delhi Smog: Odd-Even Car Rule May Return; Consider Cloud Seeding to curb Pollution : HC

The court said that though stubble-burning was the "visible villain", authorities should address the "other elephants in the room" such as dust generated by road and construction activity as well as vehicular and industrial pollution.

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Issuing a slew of direction as immediate measures to control pollution in Delhi-NCR, the court banned felling of trees, ordered sprinkling of water on roads to control dust. Pixabay

New Delhi, November 9, 2017 : The Delhi High Court on Thursday said there was an “emergency situation” vis-a-vis pollution in Delhi-NCR region and asked the Delhi government to consider vehicular odd-even scheme and cloud seeding to induce artificial rain.

The court also asked the Centre to hold meetings with Delhi and National Capital Region authorities to bring in short-term measures to control pollution immediately and to submit a report to it on November 16, the next date of hearing.

Issuing a slew of direction as immediate measures to control pollution in Delhi-NCR, the court banned felling of trees, ordered sprinkling of water on roads to control dust and strict enforcement of construction code to ensure that the air was not polluted.

A Division Bench of Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva also directed the Chief Secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Control to call an emergency meeting with his counterparts in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh and pollution control agencies within three days to discuss ways to curb pollution.

The bench said the Chief Secretaries will also consider the feasibility of cloud seeding to bring down air pollution. This, the bench said, was not a very expensive process and Bengaluru had adopted it.

The court asked the Delhi government to consider bringing back the odd-even scheme — under which vehicles of odd and even registration numbers, with exceptions, ply on roads on designated days — to control traffic congestion and unclog the capital.

But the court questioned the government move to increase parking rates by four times.

“If somebody has to go to a hospital or buy important items, he ends up paying four times more for the parking,” the bench said.

The court said that though stubble-burning was the “visible villain”, authorities should address the “other elephants in the room” such as dust generated by road and construction activity as well as vehicular and industrial pollution.

“London has faced this kind of air pollution. They term it as pea soup fog, which is a killer fog. This is a deadly mixture of construction and vehicular dust and other factors,” the bench said.

The court also directed the Delhi government to conduct a survey of all hospitals in the national capital on availability of oxygen to deal with emergency situations with regard to vulnerability of children and senior citizens.

It told the Delhi government to strictly regulate the entry of trucks into the city.

The court was hearing a suo motu case it initiated in 2015 to control air pollution in the national capital. (IANS)

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Attention Delhites! Avoid Outdoor Activities as Air Pollution Levels rise in the Capital

Vikas Maurya, senior consultant at Fortis, said preventive measures like avoiding outdoor physical activities like cycling, jogging or any other outdoor exercises should be taken.

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AIR POLLUTION
Motorcycles and vehicles drive on a road while fog envelope the area (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad) (VOA)

New Delhi, November 8, 2017 : Doctors have issued a health advisory asking people to avoid outdoor activities like jogging and cycling as high levels of air pollution in Delhi and NCR can cause chronic lung and heart diseases and also affect the health of expectant mothers.

The smog that has enveloped the region for the past two days can cause allergies or aggravate already existing allergies and decrease lung immunity, according to tips shared by Fortis Healthcare.

ALSO READ India’s Air Pollution 18 Times the Healthy Limit

The high levels of air pollution might also be instrumental in causing premature birth, the doctors warned.

The other harmful effects include decrease in lung function in all age groups, aggravation of pre-existing lung and cardiac functions along with uncontrollable or chronic coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

ALSO READ Drive Safely! Heavy smog covers India, Pakistan, causing accidents and illness

Vikas Maurya, senior consultant at Fortis, said preventive measures like avoiding outdoor physical activities like cycling, jogging or any other outdoor exercises should be taken.

He suggested that air purifying plants like Aloe Vera, Ivy and Spider Plant should be kept at home and in offices.

Fruits rich in Vitamin C, magnesium, omega fatty acids should be consumed more to fight any allergy or infection. “Have herbal ginger and tulsi tea in adequate quantity.”

The doctors said air pollution poses a major health risk and can cause stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases.

ALSO READ 10 Quick Facts About Delhi Pollution Problem

According to the WHO, 92 per cent of the world population lives in areas where the air quality is below WHO standards.

Eighty-eight per cent of premature deaths occur in the low- and middle-income countries, where air pollution is escalating at an alarming rate. (ians)