Dingy lanes, open sewers and coal dust: Problems galore for Vizag's Old Town area

Ground Report Vizags old town is suffocating under pollution but no one cares
news Civic Issues Tuesday, January 31, 2017 - 13:07

56-year-old Ibrahim sits on a step outside his house in a dingy lane, staring at onlookers and passing time.

"I have been here for decades. If I start telling you stories and problems of this area, then you will not be able to go back home today," he quips.

Ibrahim's home in Visakhapatnam's Old Town area, situated near the port to the south of the city, has an open drain running right in front of it, just under the step he's sitting on. 

It’s the same with the house opposite his.

While Andhra Pradesh's largest city, continues to expand and grow northwards, many areas in Old Town, from where the city first started, continue to be in a state of neglect.

Despite being used by hundreds of people every day, the roads here are narrow, winding, and filled with filth. Two autorickshaws trying to pass each other here may result in a traffic jam.



"We have lost hope. Nobody cares about developing this area anymore, when they can buy large patches of land on the other side and build skyscrapers," Ibrahim adds.

Last week, the city held the CII Partnership Summit 2017, which began on Friday near RK beach.

According to CII, delegates from 51 countries participated in the two-day event, with six Union Ministers taking part in the deliberations on the first day.

Most guests for the summit, were either accommodated at the Novotel hotel on one side of the beach, or The Park on the other, thereby ensuring that they only saw smooth roads, with freshly painted dividers and a pristine beach, before they reached the summit venue.

Meanwhile, at the other end of town, rats could be seen scurrying hastily in the drains, even as locals calmly watched.

"You'll get used to it, if you stay here for a while," one of them remarked.

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While the narrow lanes, bad sanitation and worn out buildings are vexing to the residents, their greatest problem is something else altogether – polluting and toxic dust.

For a few years now, areas around the port from Town Hall street to Soldierpet and Kothaveedhi have complained of severe dust pollution, but to no avail.

According to reports, the problem began with major industries like the Visakhapatnam Port Trust (VPT), HPCL and Visakhapatnam Steel Plant spewing noxious fumes, which led to a layer of iron ore dust hanging in the air.

Things became worse when the VPT expanded and established its General Cargo Berth (GCB), thereby adding coal and sulphur to the air above the area. 

"Many children in the area used to suffer from lung problems and rashes. My son used to continuously cough late into the night, which is why I sent him away to a hostel to continue his education" says a local resident.

"When we were kids, most of us lived in Old Town near VPT, within a few hundred yards of the beach. We played on the beach and swam in the sea whenever we could. Hundreds of catamarans (boats made with just two pieces of wood) would sail out every morning with their white sails, and come back in the afternoon laden with fish," recalls Sohan Hatangadi, a long time Vizag resident and an environmentalist.

"In the late sixties, the Japanese showed interest in buying our iron ore and were willing to fund the facilities to ship the stuff to them. Iron ore export was big business, and an outer harbor was built, and a three kilometer long wall came up along that beach to 'secure' the facility. Rumbling conveyor belts passed over our homes carrying iron ore to large ships in the outer harbor. Soon, the fishing community vanished, and the sea got polluted," he adds.

Sohan says that as the facility grew, many shifted out of the area to the north of the city, and all the residents that remained were either labourers at the port, or were too poor to shift. 

Stating that a lot of pollution was because the trade has employed smaller operators and manual workers to handle the coal for decades, he says that it is no longer needed due to advancement in technology.

"However, those who have been handling coal manually for years, will face loss of business and their workers may lose livelihood," he says.

"This is therefore a human problem as much as a technical and commercial one. If workers can be employed elsewhere in the logistics chain, the port can dispense with the dirty business of manually handling, truck transportation and open storage of coal. Can we satisfy our smart city aspirations by cleaning up our act?" he asks.

(The conveyor belt that runs through the heart of Old Town. Image: Wikimedia Commons/Aditya Madhav)

Meanwhile, locals say that things have slightly improved.

This is reported to be mainly due to the construction of another large wall around the dusty cargo handling areas and sprinkling the coal with water, to prevent it from flying.

However, the problem is far from solved, and clean air continues to be a luxury the locals can ill afford.

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