Dramatic, isn’t it? When I first started researching air quality, I found that most pieces made some version of this statement. Considering this to be an exaggeration, I decided to talk to a few friends, family members and colleagues to get a sense of their perspective on the issue. To my surprise, quite a few quoted variations of this statement: “It feels like poison”, “it just doesn’t feel right”, “it is killing us gradually” and so on. This is in line with the concerns raised by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) urban air quality index (2014), which showed Delhi’s air had the highest levels of PM 2.5 (a toxic pollutant) and declared the national capital as the most polluted city in the world.
Talk to a few elderly people who were born in Delhi and have lived most part of their lives here to get a sense of where we have reached and where we are headed. They will talk about the big parks and forest land of the city, but this green cover has been declining steadily due to development work and rapid urbanization.
This disappearing greenery is matched by a continuous rise in the number of vehicles in the capital. A white paper on air pollution in Delhi by the Ministry of Environment and Forests points out that vehicular pollution contributes to 67% of the total air pollution load (approximately 3,000 mt per day) in Delhi. The problem is further exacerbated when we consider the continuous rise in the number of vehicles in the city and the quality of fuels we use in our vehicles. According to the Delhi Economic Survey 2013, the vehicular population in Delhi has registered a 135.59% jump between 1999-2000 and 2011-2012. Simply put, our sources of clean air are decreasing, while those belching out polluting fumes are on the rise.