One doesn’t need lengthy statistics to prove that construction activities are one of the main contributors to the urban pollution. A visit to the nearby construction site will prove that construction is one of the main culprits which force many either to remain indoors or to step out of the house wearing masks. For example, as per the IIT Kanpur study conducted in 2014-15, the percent contribution of construction material to PM10 (Particulate Matter 10) during winters and summers in NCR is 3.1 and 4.1, respectively whereas for PM2.5 (Particulate Matter having an aerodynamic diameter less than or equal to 2.5 pm), it is 1.5 and 3.0, respectively.
But banning the construction is no solution to the problem and is just a knee-jerk reaction which will do more harm than good. Construction activities provide daily earning to the poor and weaker sections of the society. Banning construction activities results in loss of livelihood to the poor and the needy, especially labourers. Instead of banning construction activities, which deprive the poor of their daily earnings, efforts should be made for the stringent enforcement of the construction guidelines and international best practices.
A World Bank report has also stated that India’s labour losses due to air pollution in the year 2013 stood at about $55.39 Billion or about 0.84% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The said losses could be even more due to the air pollution situation prevalent during the last few years.
But construction is a universal activity not restricted to Indian cities and towns but is carried out all over the world and is the profession discovered the moment man decided to step out of the caves and live within man-made walled structures. This goes to prove that construction itself is not responsible for the pollution but the way it is being carried out in our country and in some other developing economies is the reason for increasing pollution.
Construction activities include land clearing, operation of diesel engines in generators, demolition, working with toxic materials, etc. which have been contributing to the air pollution. Construction activities known to generate high levels of dust typically from cement, stone and tile cutting, wood, etc. and they are being carried for long distances over a period of time. The construction dust is identified as PM10 pollutant.
It is not that we do not have any guidelines as to how to carry on construction in environment friendly manner. Public Works Departments, Municipal Corporations and City Development Authorities – all have piles of files containing guidelines and penalties for not following the guidelines. Our greatest weakness is not the formulation of guidelines and rules but their enforcement.
Guidelines issued by CPWD in pursuance of orders passed by National Green Tribunal on air pollution from construction and demolition strictly prohibits dumping of construction material or debris on metalled road. But one can see this rule being observed in the opposite in every nook and corner of almost all the cities. Further, contractors are supposed to take appropriate protection measures like raising wind breakers of appropriate height on all sides of the plot/area, using CGI sheets or plastic construction material to prevent dust flying outside the plot area. However, this rule is honoured more in its breach than in the observance. In almost all the major cities construction work for Metro Railway is being carried out and construction rules are often ignored even in these sites on many occasions.
Remember, it is not just environment which is being affected by bad construction practices but also the health of the construction workers too is impacted. Though there is a rule that the contractor should provide mask to every worker working on the construction site and involved in loading, unloading and carriage of construction material and construction debris to prevent inhalation of dust particles, the rule is being rarely followed at the construction sites. Provision of medical help, investigation and treatment to the workers involved in the construction of building and carrying of construction material and debris relatable to dust emission is only on paper and not observed in reality. There is also a condition that the contractor should compulsorily use wet jet in grinding and stone cutting which is never followed.
In this regard, one need to appreciate the measures taken by Delhi Metro Railway Corporation (DMRC) to control dust emission and creative touch given to construction waste from construction sites. Even the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment and Pollution Control has commended the steps taken by DMRC to control dust emission at the construction sites. Instead of dumping the constructional waste here and there, DMRC dumps the wastes at pre-designated and approved sites by the Government. The measures adopted by the DMRC by following the C&D waste rules and the guidelines should be adopted and followed by other agencies involved in construction activities.
Further, noxious vapours from paints, thinners, oils, cleaners, etc. are environmentally hazardous chemicals which are widely used at the construction sites and have been contributing to raise the levels of air pollution which mostly goes unnoticed. The concerned agencies should also take the required steps to contain the air pollution contribution from these chemicals.
There is no doubt that good construction site practices can help to a great extent in controlling and preventing air pollution in the cities. It is also necessary that Environment Risk Assessments for all the construction activities and materials being used and likely to cause air pollution must be made in consonance with the laid down norms/regulations. The construction industry should also be encouraged to use eco-friendly construction methods, materials and technologies. The central government should also sensitise the State Governments and other agencies to strictly follow the guidelines/norms specified by CPCB in order to prevent pollution caused by construction activities.
Public in general too has a responsibility in containing air pollution due to construction activities. They should deal with only such parties who follow environment friendly construction methods and materials and strictly adhere to the rules and guidelines issued by the government agencies at the construction sites. Unless the ‘activist’ in each and everyone is provoked, pollution control and clean air will remain a thing of past. Right to breathe may be a birth right but to achieve and retain that right we have to always remember and do our duty too.