The plastic curtains covering the “air pollution-free” bus stand at Delhi’s traffic artery on Vikas Marg, ITO flutter every time a vehicle passes by. For Bijoy Kumar Farida, 65, the curtains also keep the cold wind out through the night as he sits and “guards” three air purifier machines set up by a private firm as a CSR initiative to provide a “pollution-free” corner in the city. When commuters are long gone after 11 pm, he switches off the machines and huddles up under a blanket; a thick sheet on the metal bench his bed for the night.
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“The machines give out very cold air. The temperature has dropped. It will get icy if they keep running,” Kumar says. He will switch the machines on if someone walks into the bus stand, but in the six days since he has been posted as a guard, he hasn’t seen anyone come between 11.30 pm to 5 am.
“Schoolchildren and others will come around 5.30-6 am. Then I will switch it on. Why let it stay on all night?” he says. “Two-three days ago, a man came and gave me this blanket. He said, ‘Baba, you’re sitting in the cold, take this’. I told him I am a guard, not a beggar. But he said I should take it anyway because it’s cold.”
A milkman in Odisha in his younger days, Kumar came to Delhi last year when his son (30) suggested he take up a job here instead of “being lazy at home”. Two of his children work here and the son, who got him this “easy job”, is also a guard.
“I’m old so I don’t sleep much anyway. So, it’s a good job,” says Kumar. “Once, this man came in and thought the machine was a heater. He was upset why it was off. I told him it’s a pollution machine and I don’t know how to turn it on.”
The three air purifiers are attached to the metal bench using a chain and lock. Two men guard the machines in 12-hour shifts. “I sit right next to the machines. Even if I start to snooze, I wake up if someone comes close to the machines. They are expensive so I am always afraid of someone taking them away or damaging them,” says Kumar.
The LED display on the stand shows the PM 2.5 levels inside and outside the bus stop. When they are off, the levels outside are as 345, and 132 behind the curtains. The figures change to 395 and 120, minutes after Kumar turns on the machine.