‘I Am A Pollution Refugee, Forced To Migrate From Delhi’

A Delhi citizen all her life, Priyanka Gera was forced to leave a well-settled living due to worsening air quality in the city. Gera says she has lost hope of seeing any improvement

I grew up in Delhi. I was a pure Delhiite until the birth of my daughter when I could no longer ignore the air pollution in Delhi. My husband was perpetually anxious about her wellbeing. We bought an AQI monitor and put air purifiers at every room in our house.

During winters we didn’t send her to pre-school on most of the days because the AQI used to be severe. We would escape to a hill station around Diwali. Then came a point when we no longer wanted to adjust our lifestyle according to pollution levels.

We started wearing N95 masks in 2018-19 while venturing out. Now masks are mandatory due to the pandemic and I find it funny that people still won’t wear masks despite the Covid guidelines, leave alone the poor air quality.

As the situation got worse by each passing year, in 2019, we took the tough call to leave our families, social circle and well-set careers and move to Bangalore for the sake of a better environment. Most people can’t do that or won’t do that – leave their well settled lives because of a danger that they don’t think is clear and present. So, they tell themselves various things to live with it, most vague of these reasoning is that somehow, you’ll develop strength or a kind of immunity in your body to adapt to pollution as if it were some ordinary flu germs. Yes, it’s true, I have heard this from so many people in Delhi!

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Having lived in Bangalore for two years have done just the opposite. Now, every time we come to Delhi to visit our families, we get unwell. I wake up coughing every single day. No, it’s not Covid-19, it’s another lung killer that we choose to ignore – pollution!

I don’t know why most people are not anxious about the pollution affecting quality of their life. People like us are exceptions, who are willing to uproot themselves because we’ve lost hope that it can ever improve here.

Surely the government and agencies have been aware of the potential crisis since decades, that’s why CNG was introduced and Metro was planned. All industries have been sent out of Delhi. The problem is not just Delhi, it’s very much there in the neighbouring states too.

Government action is but all ‘reaction’ – nothing much is being done proactively. It takes the Supreme Court to give ultimatums to Delhi Government to take steps, now construction has been halted, schools are shut etc.

WHY THINK OF AIR POLLUTION ONLY IN WINTER?

By Rajat Arora Late last year, the Delhi government declared a medical emergency with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) sending out alarming messages on its website, calling for states to tackle pollution on a “priority basis”. The CPCB held frantic meetings to keep the public updated on the alarming PM (particulate matter) levels. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal termed the situation an “emergency” even as the Meteorological Department forecast that a change of weather was most unlikely. The World Health Organisation in 2014 classified New Delhi as the world’s most polluted capital, with air quality levels worse than Beijing; and it appears that in 2017 the situation worsened multiple-fold. Delhi’s air quality is usually known to worsen ahead of the onset of winter as the cool air traps pollutants near the ground, preventing them from dispersing into the atmosphere, a phenomenon known as inversion. While Delhi has always had its fair share of pollutants attributed to the exploding vehicular population. (What can you expect if 1,400 new vehicles are added to the roads every single day?) According to government statistics, the total number of vehicles in Delhi exceeded 10 million for the first time in 2016. There is official apathy to keep a check on vehicular emissions; and the annual winter problem is exacerbated because of the stubble burning by the farmers. A report in the Lancet (world’s leading medical journal) said that pollution had claimed as many as 2.5 million lives in India in 2015, the highest in the world. And it’s only a guess the role of the nation’s capital has on this “achievement”. How much sense does it really make in always working on a war-footing, in utter desperation, year-after-year, when there is a need to work on this all through the year so that the situation that only seems to be worsening year-after-year is judiciously controlled? Construction activities were suspended temporarily; the city chiefs called for a total ban on trucks entering the city; schoolchildren were asked to refrain from going to schools and told to stay indoors because they are the most vulnerable to pollution that is usually at its peak in the mornings. Why be concerned only about the children and the aged? The microscopic particles, which are smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, are considered harmful because they are small enough to lodge deep into the lungs and pass into other organs, causing serious health risks to even a normal human being. Retailers selling air purifiers are making merry as sales have surged significantly. People are moving about with masks and scarves over their nose, hoping that it could bring respite. The hashtag #smog was the top trending on Twitter, Facebook as 2017 closed, even as the people of Delhi continued to demand stronger measures to curb pollution. But what does one need to do? Primarily start with planting more trees. Development and upgrading of infrastructure should not mean felling of trees and starving people of oxygen. The government should ensure that polluting industrial establishments move out of the city limits and also stringently limit approvals to these units in areas of habitation. The government machinery should also start looking at greener alternatives in place of pollution-emitting fuel in vehicles. While the to-do list could be long, it is imperative to start somewhere because pollution has now overwhelmed the action taken and what is unfolding today is a scary story. (Rajat Arora is an Interventional Cardiologist and Medical Director at Yashoda Hospitals in Delhi. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at drrajat@yashodahospital.org)]]>