Delhi’s anti-smog tower shut, staff say yet to be paid | Latest News Delhi - Hindustan Times
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Delhi’s anti-smog tower shut, staff say yet to be paid

Jan 08, 2024 05:20 AM IST

The anti-smog tower in Connaught Place, Delhi, has been shut down again due to non-payment of salaries to the personnel manning the facility. Experts argue that smog towers are not a long-term solution to air pollution and would require thousands to be installed across the city. Delhi's pollution levels were in the "very poor" zone on Sunday, with an air quality index of 333. A report by IIT-Bombay found that the tower's range is only around 500 meters and has an 18% reduction in particulate matter. It recommends running the facility only in winter and reducing its size.

The anti-smog tower near Connaught Place, which was made operational in November following directions from the Supreme Court, was once again shut down on Sunday, with the personnel manning the facility locking it up, citing non-payment of their salary.

New Delhi, India - Jan. 7, 2024: A smog tower at Baba Kharak Singh Marg, Connaught Place is locked up not oprational being locked up by tech personnel resportely for its operations over a delay in salary, in New Delhi, India, on Sunday, January 7, 2024. (Photo by Sanjeev Verma/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)
New Delhi, India - Jan. 7, 2024: A smog tower at Baba Kharak Singh Marg, Connaught Place is locked up not oprational being locked up by tech personnel resportely for its operations over a delay in salary, in New Delhi, India, on Sunday, January 7, 2024. (Photo by Sanjeev Verma/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)

The day-to-day operations of the tower, located on Baba Kharak Singh Marg, are managed by a 13-member team. A staff member, on condition of anonymity, said that following the Supreme Court order, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) employed them to restart the facility on November 8, but they are yet to be paid their salaries. “Therefore, we had no other option but to close down the operations,” the staffer said.

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Delhi minister Saurabh Bhardwaj blamed the bureaucracy for the shutting down of the anti-smog tower’s operations. “All powers have been given to a few officials, and now they are working as per their wish... Officials are not following the orders of ministers because they know that no action will be taken against them,” he said.

DPCC officials did not respond to requests for comment.

To be sure, experts have long argued that smog towers are not a long-term solution to Delhi’s air pollution problem, and that not only would people have to remain extremely close to the smog tower to breathe clean air, but thousands of such smog towers would have to be installed across the city to bring about a change in air quality.

Incidentally, Delhi’s pollution levels on Sunday were in the “very poor” zone, with a 24-hour average air quality index (AQI) of 333, according to the daily bulletin released by the Central Pollution Control Board.

The anti-smog tower at Connaught Place was installed following a Supreme Court order on January 13, 2020. The Delhi cabinet formally decided on October 9, 2020, that the unit would be installed as a pilot project for two years, and the tower was opened by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal in August 2021.

The facility was shut in April 2023, and environment minister Gopal Rai had blamed bureaucrats for arbitrarily shutting down the tower over unpaid dues. On November 8, a DPCC team restarted the tower after the Supreme Court ordered the administration to immediately operationalise it.

A report on its efficacy, submitted by IIT-Bombay on September 30, 2023 says that the 24-metre tower possesses a range of only around 500 metres, with a weighted average reduction in particulate matter only around 18%.

The report further recommends running the facility only in the winter months, stating it has negligible impact in the summer, and also suggested that future prototypes be scaled down in size, noting that maintenance was a problem, particularly in terms of filters and cost-efficiency.

“From the weighted area integration for the observed range of 500m, it is found that the effective reduction zone (ERZ) is around 0.78 sqkms, and having an area weighted average of air cleaning efficiency of 18% for PM10. This means population within the range of 500 meters will be breathing, on average, 18% purer air as compared to the air they would have breathed in the absence of the air cleaner,” the report said.

The institute based its report on a study conducted between October 2022 and February 2023.

IIT-Bombay also recommended that the overall size of the tower be reduced, noting that its current 24m height as one of the reasons for maintenance issues.

The tower has 40 large fans that draw air from the top of a special canopy structure and release clean air below – each fan requires 25 horsepower. “The fans were designed to operate at 1000 m3/s, however, it may not be always necessary to deploy such a high throughput system. Depending upon the context in which air cleaner has to be deployed, one may reconsider the design with smaller number of fans, lower height of the tower and smaller footprint.” the report said.

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