From Coal Fire to Clean Power: Kolkata Begins Work to Combat Air Pollution

After environmentalists gave a push for cleaning the city's air, authorities have come forward with a proposal to control the biggest source of pollution - Kolkata's famous roadside eateries.

West Bengal’s capital Kolkata is preparing to combat air pollution in the coming winter as beginning this month, civic authorities are all set to replace the old coal-fired ovens that the food vendors had used with electric induction cooktops.

The change has been initiated by the National Environment and Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) which has pointed out that the chulhas used by the road side vendors are the biggest source of city’s polluted air. Additionally, mechanical sweepers and sprinkling machines have also been bought to take down the dust pollution.

The budget allocation of about Rs 2,271.2 lakhs has been asked by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) from the environment department’s principal secretary. The figure is only half of the total cost of the scheme as the rest is proposed to be borne by the vendors. They include fogging/mist machines at select road intersections, induction cookware and mechanical road washers to control dust levels.

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The NEERI’s interim report indicates that coal chulhas contribute 30% of Kolkata’s PM2.5 pollution, making it the largest source of pollution; second is vehicular pollution at 26%. The winters in Kolkata brings fore this pollution and authorities are taking steps to control and curb this pollution.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, the city has 30,000 food vendors who use coal-fired ovens. These food vendors cater to a huge customer base with low-cost food. While 33 percent of their consumers buy food daily, 23 percent buy food four days a week from them. Besides these food vendors, there are road-side ironing service providers, who also used coal-fired irons. They will be given electric irons, said an environment department officer.

S.M Ghosh, an environmentalist with Kolkata Clean Air, a Bengal based NGO, told Iam Renew about the alarming levels of air pollution and PM levels in the city.

“PM2.5 level is 7 times higher than the safe limit. 60mg per cubic meter is the permissible limit but Kolkata is facing a level higher than Delhi even in its university campus,” Ghosh said. “I prefer solar-charged induction cooker if developed for roadside food stalls,” he added.

S.M. Ghosh has been a frontrunner in bringing the issues of air pollution in Kolkata since the past few years and earlier this year, he had written to the KMC and the environment minister of West Bengal. ”This is public health hazards due to cheap quality coal-burning without any pollution control chimney. We have found 10000 eateries and 2000 cloth pressing outlets,” Ghosh’s letter had said.

In the letter, he has informed and suggested ways to counter the problem of Air Pollution. Iam Renew has read the letter which points out that there are around 10,000 roadside temporary food stalls on the city’s pavements, with and without trade license, and are polluting the environment.

Most of the shops are preparing bread rolls, chow, roti, tandoori dishes etc by using coal-fired / Charcoal Chulas openly on the footpath. As a result, the burnt or partially burnt coal dust along with food particles are spreading in the air.

“I moved from area to area like High Court, outside Sealdah and Ballygunge station, Rashbehari, Lake Market area to Prince Anwar Shah Road and found 20% higher PM2.5 and 10% higher PM10 level in comparison to before and after opening the stalls,” Ghosh said.

Following are his suggestions:

  1. Introduce separate food hubs
  2. No coal-fired Chulhas to be allowed
  3. Chimney must for Tandoors
  4. Trade license to be issued if the cooked food centers use LPG, electric or solar energy.
  5. No trade license to be issued to the eateries with cooking coal chulhas. Without trade license, No Food License or Fire license to be issued.
  6. The eateries should mention the cooked food process ie Electric,LPG , Solar or Bio Briquettes as Alternative energy to Coal.

He adds that unlike other states and cities, Kolkata can solve the issue of air pollution with these simple yet effective ways. “Environment-friendly food stalls are needed for Green Kolkata & Clean Kolkata.”

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