By Anand Mohan Yadav:
Only recently we have started noticing more advertisements for air purifiers and masks, winter vacations in schools getting extended, and people being urged not to step out of homes unless necessary. All this is due to the increasing air pollution, and the worsening air quality, especially in Delhi/NCR. And then, I observed more and more people wearing masks, buying air purifiers for their homes and reports of increased cases of respiratory problems in hospitals.
However, during my internship with Chintan, I got the opportunity to interact with different communities of waste pickers. It was then that I started to understand more deeply how pollution impacts people from different socio-economic backgrounds. There is no disagreeing that everyone has to bear the effects of pollution. But the question is, does pollution discriminate on the basis of class?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. People from poor sections of the society have to bear the brunt of everyone’s fault.
In Delhi NCR, there are currently four landfills, with three of them overdue for closure. These three landfill sites, namely Ghazipur, Bhalswa, and Okhla are home to more than 50% of Delhi’s population. And most of them have a very poor economic background. I had the opportunity to interact with some people from all these landfill sites and get a deeper insight into the issues faced by them. There is no denying that these people face social injustice. Lack of good education and healthcare facilities is a constant concern for them.
Through my interactions with them, I got to know about the reality of public toilets built by the government. Women fear to go to these public toilets because there are incidents of rape almost every day. Mothers are afraid of sending their sons out because they might succumb to the trap of drug dealers. And it is also the reason why many parents force their kids to drop-out from schools. When asked if they know about their constitutional rights, they just had one thing to say, “Who will listen to us?” They don’t have a choice to move to a new place even though they know that it would be a good move for their children.
But, what most of them don’t know are the health hazards they face by living near the landfill sites. They do know that air pollution is a serious concern and realize the harmful health effects. Unfortunately, what they and the public at large don’t know, are the severe health risks they face just by living near these landfill sites. Many scientific studies have shown a strong correlation between closeness to landfill sites and health hazards such as pulmonary issues, neurological disorders and many more.
Of all these findings, the most shocking is that the exposure to landfill sites has been found to affect the health of fetuses as well. Several studies in the UK proved that the risk of birth defects is higher in communities living near landfill sites. Such studies have been done in Delhi as well. Sadly, the people who live around these landfill sites are oblivious of these risks. What is even worse is the fact that even when they are told about them, there is only little they can do. It is not very difficult to understand why. As mentioned earlier, almost all of them are daily wagers with little or no access to good education and healthcare. And going to a healthcare facility would mean skipping some hours of work, which for them means losing their daily wage and the risk of going to bed at night with no food in their bellies.
Although Chintan and Safai Sena have taken many steps to improve the lives of these people, it is high time that the governments come up with real solutions and implement them.
Anand is currently interning with the Advocacy and Communications team at Chintan. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from BITS Pilani.