This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Anjali Nambissan. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

The Air You Breathe In On Delhi’s Roads Is Worse Than You Imagined. Here’s Why!

More from Anjali Nambissan

By Anjali Nambissan

Ambient air quality monitors are lying to you about how bad the air you breathe is. On-road emissions of toxic pollutants is worse than you ever imagined…

Photo Credit
Photo Credit

So we knew Delhi’s air is pretty bad. But it is worse, much worse, on the road, contends Joshua Apte, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering at the University of Texas (from where he also completed his PhD). He is sometimes referred to as the Rickshaw Researcher, in the urban air quality research and advocacy circle (Yes, there is such a thing) because of his research to show how bad on-road emissions are compared to ambient air quality monitoring levels. And he conducted this research in a, well…auto rickshaw.

In 2011, Apte, armed with a range of air quality monitors of varied sensitivity, went from Connaught Place in central Delhi to south Delhi and back, in an auto rickshaw, as well as in an air-conditioned and non-AC car. He did this for several hours every day over the period of four months to measure how bad the air we breathe in on Delhi’s roads really is. It was so bad that his equipment broke. The levels of fine, ultrafine, and black carbon particles inside cars and auto-rickshaws in New Delhi are among the highest ever reported on urban roads, he discovered. “Traffic exposure is not represented in urban ambient air quality monitoring data,” Apte said about what motivated him to make 75 rush-hour trips in an auto, AC and non-AC car collecting about 200-hours of in-vehicle pollution. He was speaking at the annual get-together of environmental scientists and researchers, Anil Agarwal Dialogue, organised by the Centre for Science an Environment, earlier this month. Delhi/NCR has about 11 official air quality monitors, while some Indian cities have none. The readings of these monitors are already at alarming levels with WHO analysis of this data placing Delhi and 12 Indian cities among the most polluted in the world. “The monitors are placed away from roads and public spaces so that industrial and vehicular emissions don’t distort or dominate the readings,” said Apte.

Good grief! It is bad on the road, it is bad off of it, so if you want to live “holding your breath may mitigate exposure by 30%,” Apte advised, in jest of course.

“People feel disengaged by heavy data from a machine placed somewhere. If you could tell PM data of a place you are in, on your smartphone right now, you’d make better decisions to protect yourself,” said Apte, “People will know whether they can go for a jog on this street or take a walk at a particular time of the day.” Because if CSE is to be believed all that we were told about morning walks being healthy and taking a stroll post dinner to aid in digestion, might actually be doing more harm than good. In a study in December 2014, they found that pollution levels are as high as 705.68 micrograms per cubic metre of PM 2.5 in posh residential areas of the capital city between 8 and 9am. “We have found that daily personal exposure to toxic air is significantly higher than the background ambient air pollution that is monitored by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee. This is a serious risk to public health,” said Sunita Narain, the director-general of CSE, in a statement at the release of the study.

The more accessible this data is – on how safe your air is in Delhi – the more unhappy people will be with it. And that is a good thing,” concludes Apte. Watch this video he made from his auto, keep an eye on the reading as the truck goes by. Does it make you unhappy enough?

This begs the question or questions then – why don’t we have technology to measure on-road emissions and more dissemination of this data? Or even stricter vehicle emissions norms and better air? Is it because Delhi-ites aren’t ‘unhappy’ enough with their polluted air?

Air and There

It is because even though cars are added to Indian roads at an alarming annual rate, our own Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change thinks vehicles aren’t to blame for how bad the air is.

In January this year, the MoEF submitted an affidavit to the Supreme Court saying that though “the rapid growth of vehicles and absence of roadmap for vehicular pollution control are contributing to rising levels of particulate matter in Delhi”, vehicles cannot be blamed for the overall urban air pollution problem because they only contribute by 6.6% to the particulate problem. Eh?!

“It is inexplicable why the government has dismissed nearly all the actions and emergency measures suggested by the Court to protect children and other vulnerable sections from vehicular pollution, as ‘not doable’. Neither has the government offered any effective action plan that can help Delhi meet the air quality standards for all pollutants within a tight time-frame,” Anumita Roychowdhury, head of CSE’s air pollution programme, said in a statement where the environmental NGO is taking down the MoEF affidavit point-by-point. The affidavit did suggest leapfrogging from the current vehicle emissions standard of Euro IV to Euro VI (which is where the world is at). And because of all the serious flak they received, the MoEF backtracked completely and corrected its position to say vehicles contribute by 8.7% – 20.5% to particulate pollution.

But the Union budget 2015 found no reason to allocate any money or mind space to combating urban air pollution. The least they could have done, say experts, was to levy excise on petrol and diesel to pay for this transition from Euro IV to Euro VI. Only 16 cities in India have air quality monitors, while the ones in UP and Rajasthan use manual monitoring technology which is obsolete.

How bad does it have to get for us to get some breathable air around here? China-bad?

You must be to comment.

More from Anjali Nambissan

Similar Posts

By Krithiga Narayanan

By Ria Gupta

By Puja Bhattacharjee

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below