Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Will we be able to keep it Golden?



Preet Inder Singh

Punjab Pollution Control Board has been working overtime to address an area of concern which worries all of us who are aware of and are engaged with preservation of our heritage. When it was found that the concentration of suspended particulate matter around the periphery of Golden Temple has risen from 296 to 586 micrograms per cubic metre, against the permissible limit of 100 micrograms per cubic metre, steps were taken to begin removal of the diesel oil furnace installed with the machine for preparation of chapatis for langar in Golden Temple besides putting up of air-pollution control device to minimise the emission. Massive tree plantation is also on the anvil.
In 2007 itself, the Punjab Pollution Control Board had conducted the monitoring of ambient air quality around the periphery of Darbar Sahib. At that time, the level of suspended particulate matter was between 138 and 417 micrograms per cubic metre. Even though the concentration of sulphur dioxide gas varied from 10 to 19 micrograms per cubic metre (which was well within the permissible limit of 30 micrograms per cubic metre), the concentration of nitrogen oxide worried as it hovered from 28 to 46 micrograms per cubic metre — beyond the permissible limit of 30 micrograms per cubic metre.
The vehicle emissions on the main road leading to Golden Temple are another source of worry. The diesel-driven auto-rickshaws were found to be major culprits. The administration needs to check and regulate the air-pollution level of auto-rickshaw on continuous basis.
Even better, it needs to make efforts to restrict the entry of auto-rickshaws around the Golden Temple.
There need to be put better and regular checks on the use of diesel generator sets installed by hotels, hospitals, banks and shops around the world heritage shrine.
"We are yet to see the plantation of trees around Golden Temple on a large scale, though some efforts have indeed been made," said an expert.
One wonders why the horticulture wing of Municipal Corporation, Amritsar, cannot do much more that what it has done so far in this regard.
Some residents to whom Punjab Today spoke to suggested that there should be some kind a bar or limit on the height of the buildings and hotels coming up in the vicinity of Golden Temple. "Also, the hotels which make so much money due to their closeness to the Golden Temple area should invest in installing chimneys in their kitchens with adequate filter system," said an expert.
One heard much about the possibility of the entire area falling within the 500-metre radius of Sri Harmander Sahib becoming a no-go area for vehicular traffic, the pollution from which is extremely harmful for the golden exterior of the holy shrine. So far, that has not happened.
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) must jointly back these plans.
The air pollution is damaging the marble, gold and walls of the Golden Temple, and there is an imminent need to enforce a complete ban on vehicular traffic in the 500-metre radius of the Golden Temple and also on industrial activities nearby the way it was done in the case of the Taj Mahal.
One wonders why the SGPC cannot ensure a green cover on the roof of rooms along the ‘parikarma'. Also, there is a need to re-think the firecracker show at the Golden Temple on Diwali which causes a lot of air pollution.
The pure gold sheet covering the sanctum sanctorum has started turning dark at several places. Preliminary studies on the pollution levels around the Golden Temple have found heavy presence of sulphur dioxide and other poisonous gases.
The walls of the upper floors and the dome of the sanctum sanctorum are covered with a pure gold sheet — from which it derives its popular name of Golden Temple. Less than a decade after the entire pure gold sheet of the shrine was replaced after three years of laborious workmanship, in 1999, hundreds of kilos of gold have started turning black. Copious doses of toxic fumes emanating from the grand display of fireworks thrice a year damage not just the gold fa├žade but also the intricate frescoes on the walls of the sanctum sanctorum, and the white marble all around. The gold is not solid but electroplated, thus, delicate. The frescoes inside the sanctum sanctorum are done with vegetable dyes, thereby making them extremely vulnerable to fading away because of corrosive gases. The white marble is getting yellowed.
The Punjab Pollution Control Board has installed four pollution-monitoring machines in buildings around the sanctum sanctorum to monitor the levels of pollution affecting the shrine.
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) is preparing a database of pollutants besides identifying the sources of air pollution around the sanctum sanctorum of the Darbar Sahib complex.
All expenses are being borne by the Punjab government. The CPCB has also engaged the services of the Guru Nanak Dev University's Department of Environment to gather data about the traffic movement, encroachments and industries around the complex to determine the causes of the air pollution.


Laser Show At Amritsar

One is happy to see some progress along the idea that smoke free fireworks or a laser show would completely replace the customary fireworks displays at Harmandar Sahib during Diwali and other occasions. Some brain storming has been done by a three-member panel comprising Jasminder Singh Advocate, Rajinder Singh Mehta and Gurbachan Singh Karmuwala in this regard. Punjab Today has learnt that certain firecracker suppliers in Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu have been contacted for smoke free supplies.
Some sections in the SGPC feel that the laser would be a costly affair. A senior SGPC official told Punjab Today that a few minutes’ laser show during the 400th centenary commemorations of installation of Guru Granth Sahib had cost Rs 6 lakh.
Experts say ordinary firecrackers emit toxic gases such as sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen, which are extremely corrosive in nature. Recent Punjab Pollution Control Board surveys have detected alarming proportions of pollutants in the air around Harmandar Sahib.
Ideally, the cost of saving the sheen of a shrine so important should not be a factor in decision making, at least not in this case.

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