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Cities and the Challenge of the Environment

Development of cities had a bad effect on the environment. Natural features were flattened out to create space for the growing demand for space for factories, housing, etc. Large quantities of industrial wastes polluted air, water and land. Noise pollution became rampant in urban life.

Use of coal in England during the Industrial Revolution raised serious problem. The factory chimneys spewed black smoke into the skies. Black fog descended on the towns causing bad tempers, smoke-related illnesses, and dirty clothes. Steps were taken to curb smoke in the city, like the Smoke Abatement Acts of 1847 and 1853. But this did not work to clear the air.

In India, Calcutta had a long history of air pollution. The inhabitants inhaled grey smoke, particularly in the winter. The air pollution in Calcutta was mainly because of the use of dung and wood as fuel in the daily use of the people. But the main polluters were the industries and use of steam engines run on coal.

In 1855, the railway line introduced a dangerous new pollutant, the coal from Raniganj. The high content of ash in Indian coal became a problem. Many pleas were made to banish the dirty mills from the city, with no effect. In 1863, Calcutta became the first Indian city to get smoke nuisance legislation.

In 1920, the rice mills of Tollygunge began to burn rice husk instead of coal. The residents complained about the air filled with black soot which fell like drizzling rain from morning till night. The inspectors of the Bengal Smoke Nuisance Commission finally managed to control industrial smoke.

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