Petha units in Taj city in turmoil

Agra, Jan 28 (IANS) More than 300 petha-making units in the heart of this Taj city are in turmoil after the district authorities, citing environmental concerns, decided to shift them outside the city. Units found using coal will be shut down if they did not switch over to commercial gas, district officials said.

Petha is Agra’s special sweet made from gourd and sugar without using fat. “The Mughal rulers were particularly fond of petha because of its cool and instant energy-giving qualities.”
After numerous complaints from the residents around Noori Darwaza, the chief petha mandi, Divisional Commissioner Pradeep Bhatnagar toured the whole area with other district officials and was shocked to see piles of petha waste at every nook and corner. The gutters were choked and sewer water had accumulated at most points, causing the people hardship.
“The petha units are a major source of air and water pollution, particularly the waste from these units which leaves a stink all around. Many of these units are still using coal, though the Supreme Court had banned its use in 1996,” said social activist Sudershan Dua.
Another activist of the area, Devashish Bhattacharya, told IANS: “For the past two years, I have been regularly sending out memorandums to various government agencies, including the chief minister’s office in Lucknow, and have posted pictures of the pollution in the area on social media sites, but there was no response from any quarter. Now, they seem to have suddenly woken up after a parliamentary committee meeting in New Delhi a few days ago where questions were asked and progress on various pollution abatement measures in Agra inquired about.”
Agra Lok Sabha member Ram Shankar Katheria said the committee had given officials two months’ time to explain what they had done to control pollution in Agra.
Bhatnagar said the use of coal by these units would be immediately banned, as per the Supreme Court orders. District magistrate Zuher Bin Sagir said a three-day camp had been held to give commercial gas connections to the petha units.
The district magistrate said more than a hundred units had been given notices to stop using coal. The Uttar Pradesh State Industrial Development Corporation has been asked to look for land in Bah tehsil for a new ‘Petha Nagri’, where the units could be eventually shifted.
Agra Municipal Corporation Commissioner Indra Vikram Singh said: “Bins and containers would be put up outside the units where the waste could be deposited, instead of littering around and creating problems. Teams had been deputed from Saturday to ensure regular cleaning of drains and dechoke the sewer lines in the area.”
Activists are however not satisfied by the government response. “The only lasting solution is shifting these units out of the city. A decade ago land was earmarked for a petha nagri and plots allotted but no one moved out. The plots have been bought over by many who have nothing to do with petha.”
Agra Development Authority officials said more plots would be allotted and if need be there could be a Petha Nagri Phase 2.
Rajesh Agarwal, vice president of the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Kuteer Petha Association, however, told officials that the Petha Nagri did not have adequate infrastructural facilities.
Already a number of units have shifted base from the city towards the Rajasthan border. “The advantage is cheap sugar from the other side of the border as there is tax difference and there are no restrictions on use of coal or firewood. The labour too is cheap,” said an industry source.
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at [email protected])