Dust stalks the landscape of Anand Vihar, which has become the city’s pollution hotspot, like an assassin on the loose. Located in Delhi’s eastern fringe, Anand Vihar’s sky is perpetually grey and its air weighed down by smoke; most faces are masked and even the trees lining up its roads appear to be gasping for breath.
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The Delhi Environment Department’s much-touted special drive to contain dust in this area, through vacuum cleaning of roads and better traffic management, is limited to pen and paper, residents allege.
But the fault also lies with authorities of neighbouring Ghaziabad, which falls in Uttar Pradesh, for doing little to rein in toxic fuel belching vehicles that crowd Anand Vihar ISBT.
The Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) recently acknowledged that high pollution levels in Anand Vihar have adversely affected the average ambient air quality level of the entire city.
“The government has banned diesel vehicles older than 10 years but they are still plying here. Buses in the ISBT here which are clearly as old are still used, making it difficult for me and the people I ferry to breathe,” said Dalip Singh, an auto driver.
It is not only the air, even the water bodies in the area lie in a rotten state, with floating debris emitting debilitating stench.
Anand Vihar suffers a toxic blend of heavy traffic, dust and emissions from nearby industries in Ghaziabad.
The ISBT and ongoing construction work in the area only add to the woes of the residents, whose health have been ravaged by high pollution levels.
In a recent meeting, Lt Governor Anil Baijal had directed that the bus depot be completely paved to prevent vehicles from kicking up dust but its lanes remain riddled by potholes and the ground largely bare.
“Pollution is a big epidemic in the whole of NCR. Anyone who is ‘immuno-compromised’, i.e. having an impaired immune system, is developing obstructive diseases like bronchitis, asthama due to pollution.
“The number of people being admitted to the ICU with such health conditions have doubled in the Anand Vihar-Ghaziabad area over the years,” according to Anurag Mishra (internal medicine and critical care), who practices at a private hospital here.
Industries surrounding the area and fumes from the nearby Ghazipur landfill site, which was also flagged by Baijal, also contribute significantly in saturating the air with ultrafine particulates.
“The biggest mockery is that there is a leather factory near a vegetable market here. I advise my patients to avoid that mandi as the produce there would be exposed to all kinds of toxic pollutants,” Mishra said.
Senior officials of the civic bodies and government departments were recently directed by the Delhi High Court to appear before it for their “failure” to comply with its order to remove debris and ease traffic movement in the area.
Local pharmacy owners shared that they are usually flooded with queries about masks and air purifiers. The number of customers looking for medicines to treat bronchitis had sky-rocketed in the days immediately after Diwali, they said.
“My children keep falling ill regularly and hospital visits have become frequent. I do not let my children play outside fearing they will not be able to bear it. Even using masks does not help. We cannot afford to move out either,” lamented Nisha, a resident.
Queries to Delhi Environment Secretary Chandraker Bharti in this regard did not elicit any response.
Kumar, a snack vendor in the area, alleged lack of action on the part of the authorities, saying no matter which government is in power, good initiatives never work out in reality.
“I have not noticed any difference following the Delhi government’s announcement that it will focus more on this area. We have gotten used to all the dust and dirt because we have been setting up shop for the past 15-20 years but not everyone is,” he said.
Vendors, especially those outside the bus terminus, bear the brunt of the noxious fumes of the old buses, but most feel helpless in the face of such exposure.
Commuters, especially those who do not take the metro, have to bear the fumes and dust as they make their way through the industrial hub.
“The new metro line construction has made it difficult to even travel through the area. It is affecting our health because we have to commute through this area daily,” Esha Sood, a Delhi University student, said.
While preventive measures are key to avoid any adverse effect on one’s health, many feel that shifting the industries out of the area will be a step in the right direction.
“The industries must be shifted out so that the condition does not worsen at least. This is no way to live,” said a college-going student Anwar, with Mishra echoing this idea.
While the metro plays saviour for many but the time taken to travel to and from the metro is a nightmare, said another DU student Vaibhavi.
“This area is highly unplanned and there are barely any regulations. Government norms to maintain pollution levels are not being followed,” said Trivedi, a local physician.