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14-year-old decision makes breathing easier in Shimla

SHIMLA: A decision taken 14 years ago to ban the use of coal heaters in the offices and residential buildings of Shimla town has brought in positive results, with a marked improvement in the hill town's air quality. In 1998-99, the Himachal Pradesh Pollution Control Board (HPPCB) had recommended a ban on coal heaters after measuring suspended particulate matter (SPM) level, which was measured 200 microgram per metre cube. The SPM level is now reduced to be in the range of 33-80 microgram per metre cube.

To keep a check on the air quality in Shimla, two monitoring stations have been set up at Tekka bench near the Ridge and at the bus stand. The data collected from these stations is examined regularly to keep an eye on the air quality. According to board officials now monthly mean average value of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen at both stations has been found well below the permissible limit.

"During winters, witnessing smoke coming out of iron pipes or concrete chimneys was a common sight as no one had thought it could pollute the environment. But in 1998 when we took the air samples of Shimla town the levels of sulphur dioxide, SPM, nitrogen and carbon were found three times more than normal, which was enough to cause lung diseases and 
cancer," said PC Gupta, executive engineer, HPPCB.

After this finding, HPPCB then had sent a proposal to state government to discontinue the usage of coal heaters to save city residents from falling prey to diseases caused by air pollution.

Pollution control board officials motivated and educated people about the use of kerosene, solar and 
'delonghi' heaters. While some accepted the suggestions others like government offices took time to accept the suggestion.

Despite the ban imposed on coal heaters in 1998-99, many including government offices continued use the same till 2004, forcing SPCB to take a tough stand to discourage people from their usage.

"In 2004, board decided to enforce the environment act and people using coal heaters were warned that if they do not stop its usage then their power supply would be disconnected following which coal heaters were finally discontinued in Shimla," Gupta added.

Coal heaters (locally called 'angithi' and 'bukhari') were being used in Shimla since the time of British, when a wooden cottage was set up by the then assistant political agent of hill states Lieutenant Ross in 1819, sources said. To beat the cold, people used to switch over to coal heaters from November to March every year until 1998-99.

But after the ban everyone has switched over to environment friendly kerosene, LPG and electric heaters.

Associate professor (medicine) at 
Indira Gandhi Medical College, Dr Jitender Mokta, said abandoning the coal heaters was a good step as presence of high SPM in the air could cause severe health problem especially respiratory diseases.

The Times of India (10-06-2013)