Day after Maradu demolitions, locals wrestle with dust pollution

Vishnu Varma
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All four structures were taken down using a technique of implosion wherein the structures caved in within their own compounds. No damage to any other structures nearby was reported. (Source: PRD)

The controlled implosions of the four luxury residential complexes in the Maradu neighbourhood of Kochi over the weekend were marked by precision. Without causing any major collateral damage, authorities were able to knock down the highrises within the scheduled time-frame. But there has been one critical side-effect to the process: lots and lots of dust.

On Monday, locals residing close to the H20 Holy Faith apartment, which was demolished on Saturday morning, gate-crashed into the office of the local municipality chairperson demanding action to counter their woes of dust pollution.

They complained that despite their persistent pleas, the officials had done little to prevent the spread of dust emanating from the debris. Following the implosion, the dust particles initially remained in the air for a few hours, gradually settling down over the roads, trees and homes of nearby residents. Several people complained of coughing, breathlessness, asthma attacks, and skin infections as a result of the all-pervading dust.

"Because of the wind movement, the dust which has settled on the roads and trees are continuously entering our homes. It's as if it has snowed here. Everywhere you look, it's white. In my ward alone, there are people in about 40 households facing health problems," said Suneela Siby, a councillor of the Maradu municipality. The H2O Holy Faith apartment is located in her ward.

The two-day demolition was the result of a Supreme Court order issued on May 8, 2018. (Source: PRD)

"Right after the demolition, if the district administration had started spraying water on the debris and the nearby roads, this wouldn't have happened. They did not stick to their promise," she added.

On Monday, Siby held talks with the District Collector who assured her that there will be constant spraying of water in the area around the debris to contain the dust. The firm, which has been given the contract to shift the debris from the implosion site, has said it will require at least 70 days to do the same. Locals say the constant movement of trucks carrying the debris will keep the dust circulation going.

Ajith, a building contractor who resides adjacent to the Alfa Serene apartment, said that he will not return home until the last remnants of the apartment are shifted from the site. The twin towers of Alfa Serene were demolished at 11:44 am on Saturday.

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"There's dust everywhere and it's impossible to live there at the moment. I suffer from heart-related ailments and my wife is allergic to dust. So we took up a house on rent to live there until March. But I have to keep shuttling to my house every day because I have to feed my dog. Unfortunately, I can't keep my dog with me at the rented house," Ajith said.

"Let them shift the entire debris from next door and then I will return. I will only come back by the end of March," he added.

At the same time, he profusely thanked the experts on the demolition technical committee and the officials for ensuring a clean fall without harming other nearby structures. Since his home is located adjacent to the apartment's boundary wall, he was extremely anxious about the impact of the demolition.

Professor CT Aravindakumar of the School of Environmental Sciences at MG University, whose team has been analysing the impact of the demolition exercise on the ambient air and water quality of the surroundings, said there have been no alarming results.

"We have measured air quality levels within a 200-metre radius of the demolition. Immediately, after the implosion in some areas, there was a two-fold increase in some of the indicators. It remained so for about six hours. But after that, the levels subsided to normal. Even today, the levels are normal," said Prof Aravindakumar.

"But within 100 metres of the sites, there has been a lot of settlement of dust. It's natural after an implosion. That dust continues to remain on the roads, trees and houses. If water is sprinkled at regular intervals, it will prevent the dust from flying," he said.

Aravindakumar's team has also been collecting samples from the nearby Vembanad Lake to check for the impact of the demolition on water-sources. In India, there's no baseline data on the impact of controlled demolition on air and water sources.