Cities And The Challenge Of The Environment

Work, Life And Leisure of Class 10

Cities And The Challenge Of The Environment

City development everywhere occurred at the expense of ecology and the environment. Natural features were flattened out or transformed in response to the growing demand for space for factories, housing and other institutions. Large quantities of refuse and waste products polluted air and water, while excessive noise became a feature of urban life.


The widespread use of coal in homes and industries in nineteenth century England raised serious problems. In industrial cities such as Leeds, Bradford and Manchester, hundreds of factory chimneys spewed black smoke into the skies. People joked that most inhabitants of these cities grew up believing that the skies were grey and all vegetation was black! Shopkeepers, homeowners and others complained about the black fog that descended on their towns, causing bad tempers, smoke-related illnesses, and dirty clothes.

When people first joined campaigns for cleaner air, the goal was to control the nuisance through legislation. This was not at all easy, since factory owners and steam engine owners did not want to spend on technologies that would improve their machines.

By the 1840s, a few towns such as Derby, Leeds and Manchester had laws to control smoke in the city. But smoke was not easy to monitor or measure, and owners got away with small adjustments to their machinery that did nothing to stop the smoke. Moreover, the Smoke Abatement Acts of 1847 and 1853, as they were called, did not always work to clear the air.

Calcutta too had a long history of air pollution. Its inhabitants inhaled grey smoke, particularly in the winter. Since the city was built on marshy land, the resulting fog combined with smoke to generate thick black smog. High levels of pollution were a consequence of the huge population that depended on dung and wood as fuel in their daily life. But the main polluters were the industries and establishments that used steam engines run on coal.

Colonial authorities were at first intent on clearing the place of miasmas, or harmful vapours, but the railway line introduced in 1855 brought a dangerous new pollutant into the picture – coal from Raniganj. The high content of ash in Indian coal was a problem. Many pleas were made to banish the dirty mills from the city, with no effect. However, in 1863, Calcutta became the first Indian city to get smoke nuisance legislation.

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