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What Delhi Needs To Do To Bring Down Pollution Before It Chokes To Death

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By Sharat Karekatt:

pollutionThe Indian capital, ranked as the world’s fifth megacity, suffered a blow (not just any blow, a low blow) to its development agenda when it was ranked the world’s most polluted city in 2015. Already notorious for being one of the most unsafe cities in the past few years, Delhi’s problems only escalated with the government being notified by scientists the world over that the city will soon be like the inside of a ‘tandoori’ oven if they carried on as usual. The inhabitants of this city will be grilled like they grill ‘chicken tikka’ in the bylanes of Khan Market. Sandra Bullock’s tribulations in the movie Gravity seem like a cakewalk compared to Delhi’s problems.

The Air Pollution Index in Delhi has been steadily on the rise since the past decade or so, but no one really paid any attention to it, be it the central or the state governments or the average citizen. So, this was bound to happen. A major reason for pollution, however, can be attributed to the uncontrolled growth of the city without any sustainable policies. But then, almost everything that is inherent to Delhi is working against it.

The city has all the key factors for converting itself into a smoky ‘Tandoor’.

Key Factors


Delhi, being the country’s capital, has a population of 26 million with thousands flocking to the city every day. Like an excessive number of chicken leg pieces impaled by a single tandoori skewer. To accommodate such a huge influx of people, the existing parks, the normally vacant green space and the adjoining farmlands have become residential complexes with people cramped up close together. The land mafia, which is allowed to run amok plays a major factor in the growth of such structures and the turning of a blind eye to issues of sustainability. The natural carbon sinks are systematically destroyed. An increased population with limited resources to offer is one reason why the city is also a criminal haven.


Delhi has limited options for flushing out toxic air. A hot and dry climate is no help either. It’s a landlocked city. A perfect Tandoor. The dusty winds from the proximal Thar desert during the summer months every year add to the Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) in its air. When the trees are cut down to pave the way for the concrete jungle in the name of development, the amount of SPM is bound to increase exponentially. The city also has limited water resources and doesn’t seem to have enough to provide for this ever increasing population. Even the poshest of city enclaves in south Delhi suffer from water scarcity.


The main source of generating electricity for the city is coal. And it certainly doesn’t help that there are three main coal plants within the city: at Rajghat, Badarpur and Dadri. Moreover, they are old, outdated and very inefficient. The Badarpur power plant being particularly well past its due date. The more the coal, better the grill you know!

But then again, since it has to cater such a large population, the city cannot afford to close down any of these unless a new source of power is identified.


With the influx of people come a large number of vehicles on the roads. Consequently, there is an incredibly high rate of greenhouse gas emissions. The main problem is the enormous number of diesel-consuming vehicles plying on its roads. Most of them are more than ten years old. Also, affluent neighbourhoods use diesel generators to remain illuminated during frequent power blackouts. This again is a major contributor. The trucks running through the city are also major contributors to the problem. A perpetual hazy weather has become normal due to this. Constant discharge of pollutants and their inability to escape leads them to accumulate over the city forming a low hanging cloud. This gives the resultant ‘tikka’ a smoky flavour peculiar to Delhi.

The Way Ahead

Now, if we do not want to end up as smoked and grilled tikka, the problem has to be tackled. Tackling these issues would take an efficient government policy followed by strong measures to employ it. Out of all the above-mentioned complications, traffic is a variable that the city management can control effectively. And they are trying a lot on that front. Delhi introduced a metro rail which helped a lot in reducing on-road traffic. They are constantly expanding the reach of the metro. The Delhi government’s scheme of introducing the even/odd car policy was laudable. However, this alone will not do. Chiefly, the Centre has to do something about the power plants and come up with other renewable sources of power. But it’s a start. We learn by hit and trial and such information can be used to build a greener city in future.

Even though Delhi did come to its senses and it did cooperate with Delhi Government’s Odd/Even rule, forgoing some luxuries to make some improvements, it wasn’t until the air quality had become extremely bad and the problem confronted us in our face. After all this, there have been cases of some idiots resisting this scheme with all their might. Not because they don’t care about this problem but because of some political disagreement with the ruling party. Keeping differences aside in the face of a calamity is something we need to learn.

It is not only Delhi, if we go by the reports, almost all major cities in India are violators and the sad part is that most of us still do not accept it as a genuine cause of concern. It’s only matter of time before these other cities also cross the red line. The problem of climate is a national issue and has to be accepted as one.

I am no expert to provide solutions for all this. There are many scientific ways to go about it and I do hope that the government is employing all the tactics it can to confront this issue. What I really hope for is to engage you people with this problem and start a conversation.

The mitigation process will definitely have tradeoffs. It is obvious that we cannot go ahead with the present model which accepts GDP as an indicator for economic growth; we have to keep experimenting with greener solutions. And as citizens, we need to support policies aimed at controlling our greenhouse gas emissions. Educating ourselves on this issue is a start, followed by small lifestyle changes; for climate change is happening and we are its centre. We have to decide if what we need is free wi-fi or to fight for or a cleaner environment.

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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.

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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.

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