Last week, residents of communities in Nallagandla, Bachupally and Miyapur organised a symbolic protest hoping to draw the attention of the Telangana government and the Pollution Control Board.

High rise buildings in HyderabadImage: Picxy/PrudhviChowdary
news Environment Saturday, October 23, 2021 - 14:10

“Horrible smell in Bachupally, can’t give up on this, we have to fight,” reads a message on a WhatsApp group. “The smell is unbearable,” another resident chimes in. After a barrage of messages about what needs to be done, the group, called Forum To Improve Things (FIT), falls silent. “Getting a strong pollution smell in Madinaguda,” reads another message the next day. Residents suggest flooding the PCB helpline with complaints. Meanwhile, an article about early puberty in young girls, probably due to chemicals, is shared on the group. A worried mother writes, “Unfortunately our children are being most affected...due to a lack of tap on the pollution levels.”

Forum to Improve Things is a registered NGO that takes up common issues of the people. FIT is also fighting against the problem of pollution in the western part of Hyderabad.  For several years now, the residents of the western part of Hyderabad have been suffering from a chemical smell that fills the air, especially in the evenings during winter. The residents have carried out protests, campaigns, filed complaints with the Pollution Control Board (PCB), raised concerns on social media but have not got any respite from the problem.

On Sunday, residents of Hill County, Aparna Cyber Zon, Aparna Cyber Commune, Devi Homes and APR Pranav Antilia and several other residential communities in Nallagandla, Bachupally and Miyapur stepped out of their homes — armed with plates and spoons. In a symbolic protest hoping to wake up the Telangana government and Pollution Control Board officials, the protesting residents made noise by banging the spoons on the plates. Young kids joined the demand for clean air holding up posters and shouting slogans. But why are residents begging for clean air and what exactly is the issue?

Residents demanding clean air

The air crisis

Nallagandla is not the only place that has time and again reported a chemical smell in the air. Residents of Tellapur, Bachupally, Miyapur, Gachibowli etc have often complained of a chemical smell in the air. Explaining the problem, which has now become a health concern for many, Neelima Yogi, a resident of Aparna Cyber Zon in Nallagandla said, “I have been staying here for the last four years. For the last two years, we have been putting up with this. Every winter, this problem starts. Several residents living in this part of the city are struggling due to this. We have made a WhatsApp group which we use as a platform to discuss this issue. We also have PCB representatives in the group”

“Every evening, we close our doors and windows so that the smell doesn’t enter our homes. By evening, we try not to step out during winters because the odour is so strong and smells horrible. Kids don’t even understand that this can be harmful for them. We are really frustrated and hence decided to protest to wake up the government and the Pollution Control Board. People of several communities are inconvenienced. We keep complaining about this on the PCB helpline. The strong odour starts in the evening and then goes on almost all night. Some people have raised complaints even at 2 am and 4 am,” added Neelima.

Like many others, Sasi Meka, an engineer residing in Aparna Cyber Zon says that clean air is an inalienable right of people. The long-term effects of the smell is worrying residents. “Clean air which has to be an inalienable right of people and particularly for our kids. We are not sure about the long term effects of the pungent air we have been forced to breathe in every day during winters for the last 7-8 years. Our movement is now restricted as we can’t even go out for a walk or send our children to play in parks without inhaling the pollutants being released. We are not against industries. Most of us owe our lives to the growth of industries in Hyderabad. What we are against is no regulatory checks against industries which endanger and impact the well-being of the people,” explained a worried Sasi.

Residents of Aparna Cyberzon protesting against the pollution

What is the source of the smell?

Speaking to TNM, Dr D Narasimha Reddy, policy expert and environmentalist said that the smell could be Ammonium Sulphide. “Waste emits ammonia. Based on the other ingredients used in the industries, it reacts and emits certain gases like Ammonium sulphide. The source could be industries or rotting waste. The vehicular population can also be a source as they also emit Ammonia. Wind from industrial areas can bring the smell to residential areas.

When asked why residents complain about the issue mostly in winters, Dr Reddy said, “The atmosphere is heavy during winters and the wind doesn’t go up as it usually does. The fog and other conditions cause the wind to stay back unlike in summer. This is the same reason why in winters we can notice smog which can result in breathing issues.”

Dr Reddy also felt that the PCB is not doing anything about the issue. “The problem is that they don’t monitor all the gases. They monitor only a few like sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide etc. The issue is the monitoring that happens is also not across the city. Only in nine locations does the PCB monitor the levels of gases. Even if they do record the presence of poisonous gases, very rarely any action is taken to mitigate the same,” added Dr Reddy. 

The expansion of the city into industrial areas, which were once on the outskirts of the city, is also believed to be one of the reasons why this is becoming a perennial issue for the residents. Quite often, the wind brings a chemical-like smell to even interior parts of Hyderabad.

Speaking to TNM, M Roshan, a resident of Hill County in Bachupally who has experience working with waste management said, “The smell is definitely coming from chemical or pharma companies. I think it’s coming from north of Miyapur. Likely from Mallampet area.”

Explaning why tracking the exact area from where the smell is coming is difficult for residents, Roshan alleged, “Each pharma and chemical industry which emits gaseous pollution should have a Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) measuring devise. Many of the industries turn this off when there is a release. By tracking these devices, PCB can easily track the area and the responsible industries.”

According to Jyotika Waghray, an ENT specialist it is imperative that the air be tested to find out the composition of gases. "Inhaling gases like nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide can have long-term effects on the lungs. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a long term effect. It is important to identify the gases present in the areas where people are complaining to find out exactly if it can have any detrimental effect on the respiratory system."  

What is the PCB doing?

This is a question a lot of residents have been asking. Each time they observe the pungent smell they call up the PCB helpline or lodge a complaint on their website. When TNM contacted Veeranna, PCB Environmental Engineer, in charge of the Nallagandla area, he said, “We have been reading about the complaints from residents. Officially we haven’t received any complaints. However, this week we plan to visit the areas and set up monitoring equipment that will help us assess the situation. We can confirm to you that this area where the complaints are coming from has no chemical industries. What is the source of the smell is what we will look into.”

However, K Nanda Kishore, General Secretary of My Home Jewel, a residential community in Madinaguda says this reply is something the residents have been always hearing. “Whenever we make noise, the PCB officials install devices to measure the gases. Their actions are short-lived. Since 2010, we have been fighting for a solution to this problem.”

The way forward

The Forum to Improve Things is now planning a two-phase approach to deal with the pollution issue. The forum has collected signatures from members of all residential communities. As a final measure, FIT has submitted a representation to the Chairperson of the PCB. If despite the representation, no action is taken then they are also considering legal ways of addressing the issue. Meanwhile, residents are often left wondering whether they should consider shifting out from the area because of the fear of the pungent smell and its consequences.

In 2016, when several complaints were raised, the PCB carried out several tests and declared that no poisonous gases were detected. However, the pungent smell continues to trouble the residents. “We reached out to our local MLA as well as our corporator. But our issue hasn’t been addressed. The very point of living in a gated community is deprived if we are to restrict ourselves to our homes without even being able to take a walk or use the amenities,” explained Nanda Kishore, who is also a member of FIT.


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