From being a critically polluted city till last year to a 100-point improvement in the Air Quality Index (AQI) this year, Mandi Gobindgarh, the steel city of Punjab, is undergoing a transformation that has lessons for many other cities.
Till last year, the city, which is home to rolling mills and induction furnaces, had an annual average AQI score ranging from 300 to 325. This placed the city in the worst AQI category of “hazardous” air quality. But according to Kahan Singh Pannu, Mission Director, Tandurust Punjab Mission (Tandurust means healthy), the city has recorded an annual average of 200-225 on the AQI this year. Though the AQI score is still in the “unhealthy” category yet the decline by one-third in such a short span of time is a remarkable achievement.
The transformation started in 2017 when the Punjab Pollution Control Board started working on getting the furnaces to switch over to side hood suction system with bag filter house, an air pollution control device. The residue ash of the furnace that was earlier making way into the environment, was collected in the side hood.
“The industrialists, who would come to their unit wearing a white shirt, would go back home with it covered in soot. This was the comparison that came handy for the industrialists to make them understand,” said Pannu.
Mohinder Gupta of Gyan TMT and president of Mandi Gobindgarh Induction Furnace Association said “Switching over to this system has actually helped. You come to our city and see yourself. The air is cleaner”. The city, located on GT Road, was earlier a polluted patch with smog engulfing it all through the year. The change is now visible to anyone on the roads, he added.
Besides switching over from the furnace to a modern system to check air pollution, the state government is trying to convince rolling mills, which mostly use coal and furnace oil as fuels, to shift to using CNG. Both coal and furnace oil are known for causing pollution and increasing the Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) in the air.
“We are working on Sumeet and Madhav Industries as a pilot project under which CNG would be used as fuel in these two rolling mills. IRM Energy Private Limited is providing them with the fuel. By December-end, these two industries would be fully on CNG,” said Pannu. The pollution board has now directed all the rolling mills to switch over to CNG by March 2020, failing which they would have to be shut down, he informs. There are 250 rolling mills and 100 furnace units in the city as of now.
He added that they have already set up five CNG filling stations in the city. To further check SPM, the government is ensuring that the kutcha compounds of the industries are converted into pucca patches. The government has set up a plantation committee under the District Forest Officer to identify the spots where plantation is being done. “We have already planted 20,000 trees. We have done the topography survey to check what kind of trees would survive”.
“Once we achieve this, this would be the first industrial city in India to be on gas. The government has reduced the VAT on CNG from 14.3 per cent to 3 per cent, a long-pending demand of the industrialists. This is all for making the city clean,” he added.
The government has also made it mandatory for all the new autorickshaws to be run on CNG. Further, all dust spots in front of petrol pumps and weighing machines have also been covered with concrete.