Following a ‘health expenditure’ hike in the salary of Hyderabad cops, Mumbai traffic police, who are battling asthma, hearing impairment and high blood pressure, demand a 30% raise as Pollution Hazard Allowance
Most of us can’t wait to get back indoors after braving the haze of soot and smoke hanging over Mumbai every day, but no one bears the brunt of this city’s imploding pollution crisis more than the traffic police who are forced to spend hours doing their duty right in the middle of all the dust and din from the city’s roads.
The Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM) level (µg/m3) recorded at Sion. The standard limit is 100
Bad air quality and constant noise are taking a toll on traffic cops, who suffer from a range of issues such as respiratory ailments, hearing problems and stress. In order to compensate for such unhealthy working conditions, Mumbai Police has now proposed that the salary of traffic cops be hiked by 30 per cent with the addition of a ‘Pollution Hazard Allowance’. This proposal follows after the Telangana government recently announced a similar plan (see ‘Hike for Hyderabad traffic cops’).
A file pic of traffic policemen wearing masks distributed by an NGO. Many attempts were made to encourage cops to wear masks to protect them from air pollution, but the idea has not found traction with the cops
It’s in the air
A look at the official data from the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) shows that Mumbai’s air quality is consistently worse than recommended levels and, in some alarming instances, the level of pollution is double the permissible limit. Take the Air Quality Index (AQI), for instance, which is the measure for air pollution. Usually, the ACI in this city hovers around 100, which according to the MPCB can result in breathing discomfort to the people with lung, heart disease, children and older adults (see ‘Air Quality Index’).
While there are several air pollutants — nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, etc — a major contributor to air pollution is Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM), which refers to pollutant particles readily inhaled by humans. On average, Sion witnessed 202 µg/cubic metre of RSPM through January – this is twice the permissible limit of 100 µg/cubic metre.
Out of breath
In 2014, the Humanitarian Welfare and Research Foundation and Indian Drug Manufacturers’ Association conducted a medical camp in collaboration with doctors from JJ and Nair hospitals, where 225 traffic cops were examined, of whom 15 per cent were found to suffer from asthma, a respiratory condition that is greatly exacerbated by polluted air.
More recently, the NGO Mahavir International and other organisations, carried out medical check-ups for the from Vakola traffic police division on January 19.
“Around 150 traffic policemen were tested and most of them complained of chronic cough and shortness of breath. Most of these issues were because of dust,” said Dr Nemichand Chhajed, a trustee.
According to the police surgeon SM Patil, the police also conduct regular check-ups for the force and in August last year, some 18,450 cops were examined and many complained of not just severe breathing issues, but also hearing impairment from noise.
While the permissible limit for noise is set at 55 DB for day time and 45 DB for night, most vehicles are equipped with powerful horns that raise the noise level up to and beyond 100 DB.
The Awaaz Foundation had carried out a study with traffic policemen last year, and found that 70 per cent of the sample size complained that they were experiencing hearing problems due to the noise they were exposed to while minding traffic. “While standing on the noisy streets, traffic policemen don’t just suffer hearing problems, but also mental and physical stress. Due to vehicular honking, noise levels can rise up to 135 DB, especially during the festive season, and the traffic cops have no way to avoid any of this,” said Sumaira Abdulali, the founder of Awaaz Foundation.
The traffic police now wants norms to be changed so that new vehicles come with low-intensity horns. “We have already written to the pollution board about the concerns over the noise levels caused by such powerful horns, and have also put a drive in place to tackle this,” said Milind Bharambe, joint commissioner of police (traffic).
Although Mumbai is yet to attempt a more holistic solution to the pollution problem like the recent odd-even traffic experiment in Delhi, the city’s police department has tried to adopt other measures for the 3,200 traffic cops, including 320 women.
The authorities hope introducing the Pollution Hazard Allowance will provide some relief — albeit monetary — to the traffic police. “We want our policemen standing on roads to be motivated and that’s why we are discussing a 30 per cent allowance for them,” said Bharambe.
The traffic police has already discussed this with Director General of Police Pravin Dixit and Mumbai Police Commissioner Ahmad Javed, and is now waiting for clearance from the Home department headed by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
In the past, the traffic department had received face masks from NGOs, but this protective measure did not find much traction with the cops, who complained that the mask was uncomfortable and made it difficult to communicate with fellow cops or motorists. According to Jt CP Bharambe, these masks are now gathering dust at the traffic chowkies.
“We have been encouraging the policemen to wear masks but the staff is yet to realise its importance. Regular medical check-ups are carried out for the traffic force as well,” Bharambe added.
The authorities also ensure that traffic cops are transferred to other police departments every five years, to limit prolonged exposure to harmful pollution, even though this means the traffic department loses out on experienced cops.
“There is a timely transfer of the policemen out of the department to ensure that they get a break from the polluted air in the city. Though we lose out on experienced cops because of this, the health of the policemen is given priority,” said Bharambe.
In addition, all policemen can avail of the cashless treatment facility at 12 hospitals across the city when they need medical attention. “Summers are the worst for policemen, since there is an increase in the complaints of suffocation and pulmonary conditions. Policemen are referred to these 12 hospitals for immediate treatment. But Mumbai’s traffic police are luckier than those in Telangana, as this is a coastal city. The sea absorbs much of the air pollution,” said police surgeon SM Patil from Nagpada Hospital.
According to the police, vehicles are the major culprit for air pollution, contributing 50 per cent of the pollutants in Mumbai, while road dust contributes another 25 per cent. However, according to Sanjay Bhuskute, public relations officer of MPCB, the threat from vehicles is on a steady decline.
“A lot of vehicles are now turning to CNG, which has helped us control air pollution. Other vehicles have shifted to new standards of emissions as well, so pollution from vehicles is not that worrying. It is construction activity that leaves a lot of dust in the environment,” countered Bhuskute.
Senior pulmonologist and medical superintendent at Sewri TB Hospital, Dr Rajendra Nanaware, said particulate matter in the air is particularly dangerous as it wears down the body’s natural immune defence system. “Cilia, or the hair-like projections in the nose, block harmful particles from entering the lungs. But they are destroyed by particles (which are mostly metallic in nature), which leaves the lungs vulnerable to multiple respiratory issues; chronic bronchitis being the most common disorder. This can also result in respiratory tract disorders, tuberculosis, cardiac issues and other chronic diseases,” said Nanaware, adding that gases like CO2 and SO2 play an equally major role in respiratory and chest issues, especially with diesel vehicles emitting 27 times more harmful gases than petrol vehicles.
Dr Rakesh Kumar, director of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), said they are now looking at finding scientific solutions for the issue. “While the doctors are attending to the medical aspect of these ill effects of vehicular pollution, we at NEERI are trying to find answers in technology. To keep a tab on the health hazards of RSPM and CO2, as well as other gases, we, along with IIT Bombay, are developing a gadget, called Vayu. It is slated to be installed at various traffic signals in the city and will clean the polluted air and release purified air,” he said, while cautioning that the feasibility of this project is yet to be verified.
In a study carried out in 2014, doctors from J J Hospital and Nair Hospital found that out of the 225 traffic constables:
15% suffered from asthma
20% abnormal blood pressure
40% heart diseases
40% calcium deficiency
40% female officers were anemic
Hike for Hyderabad traffic cops
The Telangana government has already announced it will hike the salaries of traffic policemen by 30 per cent upon learning that around 32 per cent of traffic cops suffer from lung related diseases, 25 per cent experience hearing impairment and 7 per cent suffered eye infection due to pollution.
Jan 19: 374
Jan 20: 218
— Inputs by Sadaguru Pandit