Pollution & The Golden Temple

by Perneet Singh

The growing number of vehicles around the vicinity of Harmandar Sahib, Amritsar, is polluting the air and turning the gold plates of the shrine black. Tribune file photo: Sameer Sehgal

The Golden Temple stands out in its splendour, but pollution is marring its beauty both inside and outside. The blackened gilded façade has to be cleaned every year. Artwork has also been damaged, forcing the SGPC to call for kar sewa inside the sanctum sanctorum for the first time in over 150 years.

Harmandar Sahib, or the Golden Temple, is the holiest Sikh shrine and attracts thousands of pilgrims from various parts of the world every day. However, the shrine, an architectural marvel, has been losing its sheen due to the rising pollution in and around its vicinity, forcing the authorities to undertake the cleaning of the gold-plating every year.

With the burgeoning population and rising inflow of tourists, the number of private vehicles plying in the area has gone up considerably in the last over a decade. Besides, rickety autorickshaws running on “adulterated” fuel are adding to the growing pollution. In the past, the district administration had tried to turn the area around the Golden Temple into a no-vehicle zone by proposing to introduce battery-operated vehicles to ferry pilgrims, but had to backtrack following strong protests by local residents and traders.
Moreover, mushrooming hotels around the gurdwara may be using LPG for cooking purposes, but most of them, as also other commercial establishments, have diesel-run generators. In summer, the generators are run for hours every day due to power cuts.

IIT study

Apart from this, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC) uses a sizeable quantity of wood to run “langar” at the shrine. The IIT, Delhi, in its recent study has cited re-suspension of dust due to vehicular movement, wood burning, wood or coal-based “tandoors” in restaurants within the walled city, and diesel generators as the main sources of air pollution that are harming the Golden Temple.

It has also pointed towards industrial stacks and burning of paddy stubble around the city as other possible reasons. The data collected by the Punjab Pollution Control board (PPCB) and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in the past had revealed that every goldsmith and “dhaba” owner around the shrine uses 15 kg to 25 kg of coal or up to 50 litres of diesel or kerosene per day, depending on the workload and availability of electricity.

POLLUTION & GOLDEN TEMPLEThe use of wood as fuel in the langar on the premises of the shrine is adding to the pollution.

As far as the pollution level around the shrine is concerned, a study conducted by the PPCB from January to December 2011 had corroborated the rising level, as the respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) level was 227 (maximum) and 124 (minimum) against the acceptable 100 microgram/cubic metre around heritage sites. However, the level of sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide was within prescribed limits.

The IIT study was also on similar lines. It also found sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide concentrations at the shrine within standards. However, the particulate matter (PM10) concentration breached the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), which was attributed to high background concentrations of PM10 (55.00 µg/m3) within the city. The study found re-suspension of road dust (47 per cent), followed by industries (31 per cent) as the main source of PM10. The study said diesel generators (59 per cent), vehicular exhaust (26 per cent), and “langar” (12 per cent) were contributing to nitrous oxide emission. Similarly, “langar” (46 per cent) and industries (41 per cent) were the main sources of sulphur dioxide emission around the shrine.

The high level of pollution in the area is harming miniature paintings and gold-plating, besides leading to the corrosion and blackening of the white marble. Its adverse effect can also be seen on the gold-plating on the outer walls of Akal Takht. The effects of pollution had also come to the fore after the replacement of gold plates at the Golden Temple in 1999. The new plates had gained a reddish tinge, following which a fresh coat of polish was applied and the process of cleaning it up was made an annual exercise. Prior to the annual clean-up, the gold plates had turned black.

Fewer fireworks

The SGPC has been taking various steps to curb pollution. We’ve put plants on the roof of the parikarma and have slashed the duration of fireworks on Gurparb. We are exploring the option of cooking langar with solar energy and are building an ultramodern kitchen facility.

— Avtar Singh Makkar, SGPC president

Green walkways

The moment you step out of the shrine, an oasis of serenity, you feel the vagaries of a bustling city. The solution lies in banning all traffic, including vehicles with red and blue beacons, within the walled city; and setting up green walkways.

— Gunbir Singh, WWF chairperson, Punjab

Check traffic

Population explosion is to blame for the rising pollution around the shrine. The number of factories and vehicles has gone up, but the green cover remains the same. More saplings should be planted and vehicles should be kept away from the shrine by constructing parking lots at a distance.

— Rajbir Singh, in charge, natural farm, All India Pingalwara Society

Source of pollution

Rise in vehicular traffic; autorickshaws adding to pollution.
Use of diesel-run generators by commercial establishments in vicinity for hours in summer.
Wood being used as fuel to run ‘langar’ at the shrine.
Presence of industrial units, and burning of paddy stubble around the city.
Goldsmiths and “dhaba” owners around the shrine use 15-25 kg coal, or up to 50 litres of diesel or kerosene per day

In action mode

The local administration has banned coal-run hearths by goldsmiths.
The SGPC has reduced the duration of fireworks on Diwali and other occasions, and is planning to modernise the “langar” facility.
High-altitude fireworks are being used to minimise pollution.
Laser shows likely to replace fireworks.
The Punjab Pollution Control Board will install a continuous ambient air quality monitoring station at the shrine.

A step in time

The local administration had in the past initiated various measures like banning coal-run hearths by goldsmiths and providing them with LPG connections. The SGPC is also initiating measures like reducing the duration of fireworks on Diwali and modernising the “langar” facility.

The SGPC limited the duration of fireworks to 10 minutes to celebrate Bandi Chhod Diwas or Diwali on November 13 last year. It was the second successive year when it had curtailed the bursting of fireworks to protect the shrine from pollution. In 2011, the Golden Temple had witnessed fireworks for only 15 minutes on Diwali. It was for the first time that the SGPC had reduced the duration of fireworks. Earlier, there used to be a half-hour show of fireworks on occasions like Guru Ram Das’ birth anniversary and Bandi Chhod Diwas. The SGPC is now using high-altitude fireworks to minimise the effects of pollution, and is even contemplating laser shows to replace fireworks. The PPCB will soon be installing a permanent continuous ambient air quality monitoring station (as per NAAQS guidelines) within the premises of the shrine at a cost of Rs 1.15 crore.

Experts have suggested a slew of measures that could be initiated to curb pollution. They say the peripheral areas of the Golden Temple should be declared a no-vehicle zone and only battery-operated vehicles should be allowed for pilgrims. They also advocate a ban on heavy-duty vehicles and those over 15 years old. They feel the use of wood should be reduced to the minimum in “langar” and the kitchen should be fitted with modern equipment to check pollution.

The other recommendations include ban on burning crop residue, uninterrupted power supply to commercial units in the gurdwara’s vicinity and introduction of a public transport system that has been hanging fire.

Gold-plating of shrine

Founded in 1588 AD, Harmandar Sahib acquired the name of Golden Temple when it was covered with gold-plated copper sheets during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (in the 1830s) at a cost of about Rs 65 lakh. The gold plates were first replaced in 1999 after 170 years. The task of re-gilding the domes and upper portion with about 500 kg gold was entrusted by the SGPC to the UK-based Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha in February 1995. Its completion coincided with the tercentenary celebrations of the foundation of the Khalsa Panth in 1999.

Devotees from over the world donated gold ornaments and cash for re-gilding. The project entailed four years of multi-disciplinary work like gold-plating, marble work and fresco painting by artisans and craftsmen from various parts of India. The aim was to restore the splendour of the shrine. The “jatha” had performed “kar sewa” in a record time of four years.

The original gilding work during Ranjit Singh’s time was done by Mohammad Yar Khan Mistri under the supervision of Bhai Sant Singh Giani. After Bhai Sant Singh’s death, his son, Bhai Gurmukh Singh Giani, supervised the work. The entire work, which lasted for about 25 years, was completed in 1830 AD.

Inside, gold-plating peeling, mohrakashi needs tending

Weathering and age have taken a toll on the shrine’s interiors, which explains the SGPC move to go for “kar sewa” of gold-plating and artwork inside the sanctum sanctorum. It was earlier done for the first time during Ranjit Singh’s time over 150 years ago. The “kar sewa” is likely to begin in August.

The gold-plating has suffered a damage of up to 40 per cent, mostly around the door arches. Gold-plating on only 15 per cent of this area is to be replaced. At some points, gold-plating has loosened its grip while elsewhere it has turned black. The affected areas will be documented in the digitised form to maintain originality. Similarly, only the artwork which is severely damaged would be repaired or replaced.

Even after the annual clean-up, the effect of pollution can be seen on the lower portion. — Photos: Vishal Kumar

The “kar sewa” has been entrusted to Baba Kashmir Singh Bhuriwale. The SGPC had passed a resolution for the “kar sewa” in 1995. While the “kar sewa” for the replacement of gold-plating was carried out between 1995 and 1999, the one for the interiors got delayed.

A UGC-sponsored project had highlighted the status of the artwork inside the shrine in 2001. It said “mohrakashi” on the walls along the staircase (on the first and second floors) has been damaged and needed attention. The authors of the work said: “On the first floor hall of the shrine, glass sheets have been used at places to cover and protect the original artwork, which is a good attempt. But the glass sheets merge with the work.”

Balvinder Singh, project coordinator from Guru Ram Das School of Planning, Guru Nanak Dev University, said measured drawings of every art form, sketches and photographs of all floral designs, should be documented so these can be restored to their original style. “Mohrakashi” should be done with natural pigments as paints have shorter life and render too much shine.

The report read: “These magnificent art forms require special attention to be restored to their original splendour.” The artworks required technical examination to protect and restore them.

Giani Kirpal Singh wrote in his book, “Sri Harmandar Sahib Da Sunehri Itihaas”, that gold-plating and artwork inside the shrine was first done during Ranjit Singh’s era and Rs 5 lakh had been allocated for the purpose.


Courtesy of www.tribuneindia.com



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