`Victoria Memorial, Maidan unfit for morning walkers`

Not only is the Victoria Memorial getting damaged because of the air pollution, it is now also clear that the area is unfit for morning walk as well.

Kolkata: A high level of vehicular pollution is not only damaging Kolkata`s landmark Victoria Memorial but has rendered the air around the magnificent structure and its adjacent `Maidan` area unfit for morning walkers, according to a report.

"Thousands of people from all walks of life go for morning walks, jogging, exercise, yoga and laughter therapy sessions around the Maidan area daily for health benefits but end up inhaling toxic fumes from vehicles," green technologist Somendramohan Ghosh, who conducted the study, said.

"It is ironical that those who come to the Maidan for breathing in clean air actually inhale toxic gases," he said.

Environmental organisation SMG-HAI installed infrared photocopy meter and dust accumulator machine near Victoria Memorial area to find the level of pollution.

Their report says the average SPM (suspended particulate matter) level in the morning hours from 4 AM to 8 AM is 227 mg/m3 while the permissible limit is 100 mg/m3.

Similarly, the average nitrogen dioxide level was found to be 105 mg/m3 while the standard limit is 105 mg/m3.

"Not only is the Victoria Memorial getting damaged because of the air pollution, it is now also clear that the area is unfit for morning walk as well," Ghosh, an expert on air pollution, said.

On an average, around 10,000 vehicles pass through the area every hour.

Since the Victoria Memorial is centrally located with busy roads encircling it, traffic congestion and long detention of vehicles at traffic signals at roadway intersections increase vehicular pollution.

"The flow of traffic should be restricted here because vehicles are the biggest pollutants," Ghosh said.

Findings of the Global Burden of Disease report this year said that outdoor air pollution has become the fifth largest killer in India after high blood pressure, indoor air pollution, tobacco smoking and poor nutrition.

Respiratory and cardiovascular diseases were cited as key reasons for air pollution-induced premature deaths.

The World Health Organization`s cancer agency The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recently said air pollutants have cancer-causing substances and classified it as carcinogenic for humans.

An earlier report by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) had suggested that the white marble of the Victoria Memorial was turning yellowish due to air pollutants.

The Maidan zone in the heart of the city is also crowded because of the presence of heritage structures like Victoria Memorial, St Paul`s Church and SSKM Hospital.

In 2007, the Calcutta High Court had directed the state government to relocate the Esplanade bus terminus to reduce air pollution in the zone.

This year the court had directed the West Bengal Pollution Control Board to prepare an action plan by November 10 for the preservation of the environment in and around Victoria Memorial.