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Toxic air: Rickshaw pullers and construction workers are worst hit

New Delhi: The National Capital, which has been struggling to combat the toxic air pollution for last few years, has become notorious for its high level of pollution. Every citizens are gearing up to protect themselves from the exposure of toxic air which is getting deteriorated day by day.

Somehow, the affluent keep themselves with air-purifiers while middle class people use masks but millions of wagers, who can not afford a roof over their heads are worst sufferers, subsequently inviting the worse disease and bearing the brunt of hazardous air quality, experts revealed.

As the air quality index (AQI) hovers between "very poor" and 'severe', slipping into 'poor' on better days, the toxic air and hazy skies over the Delhi-NCR region and other parts of India are driving one more wedge between the haves and the have-nots, leaving those forced to live and work in the outdoors vulnerable to pulmonary and other diseases. "The class bias is evident when the pollution level peaks," said Sunita Narain, who heads the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and is a member of the Supreme Court-appointed EPCA.

"We can fight pollution only when authorities think about both rich and poor and both join hands in this fight to protect the environment, otherwise the rich can roam in diesel vehicles and use purifiers to protect themselves but the poor face more exposure and do not even have money for treatment," Narain said.

Rickshaw pullers and construction workers are the worst hit. And 19-year-old Shyam, who recently moved from Darbhanga in Bihar to Delhi to become a rickshaw puller, is proof that pollution hits us all, but some more than others. "I am saving money for a computer course but my health has been poor for the last one month," said the youngster, adding that he had spent all his savings in getting treatment for a recent respiratory infection. "We can't afford the hi-fi masks that we often see our passengers wear," Shyam said with a wry laugh. These day, he said, he feels he pedals with a weight on his chest.

The rickshaw is home for Shyam. Rupak, who came to Delhi from Rourkela 30 years ago, escapes into his humble home in east Delhi's Trilokpuri area at night but his fragile health is evidence of the long hours spent outdoors.

The 49-year-old boasts that he could not so long ago ride his rickshaw faster than most autos. But it is that time of the year when he slows down, not because of his age but because of the alarming pollution. "It becomes difficult to breathe if I ride faster and my eyes burn. On normal days, I earn up to Rs 500 per day. But in the winter months, I manage to earn just Rs 300-350 per day,"

Rupak said.

"There were days when I had to go without food, but this exposure to toxic smog is the worst," he added. Some reports estimate there are seven lakh cycle rickshaws plying on Delhi roads. Then there are construction workers, who not only face prolonged exposure to toxic air but also lose their means of livelihood when the government bans construction activities when pollution levels peak.

Radha, 35, has worked at various sites of city for the past 15 years and jokes that she has a contribution in building this city. "On some good days I manage to earn as much as Rs 600 per day… We are the first ones to lose our work when pollution in the city increases. This year, we were not allowed to work for 12 days in November which made it difficult to support ourselves," she said.

Now, when the work has resumed, a wracking cough has stopped her from putting in a full day's work. Faiz, who is working alongside Radha at a construction site in Greater Noida, said the job might just kill them all. "We see various government advisories telling people to stay indoors and wear masks when stepping outside but we don't have that luxury. We have to work for 12 hours in this pollution which I feel ultimately kill us," Faiz said.

Though there are no exact figures available for the impact on pollution on those who work and live outdoors, there is enough anecdotal evidence. According to Shahid Khan, a doctor at a Patparganj mohalla clinic, the number of people complaining of difficulty in breathing and burning of eyes increases exponentially when the pollution level peaks. "There is specially a rise in the number of construction workers, rickshaw pullers and hawkers who face continuous exposure to toxic air," Khan said.

S Chakrabarti, a doctor at the Safdarjung Hospital, added that prolonged manual work while breathing polluted air can lead to diseases like chronic bronchitis, asthma, respiratory infection and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Routine exposure to PM2.5 pollutants can lead to diseases like cancer and increases chances of stroke. It is important to make people understand that pollution is not an "elite" problem as some political parties are making it out to be, said Jyoti Pande Lavakare, co-founder, Care for Air NGO.


'Air quality hovers between 'poor' and 'very poor' due to local pollutants'

New Delhi: Delhi's air quality oscillated between 'poor' and 'very poor' categories on Sunday due to local pollutants as authorities predicted further rise in the air pollution level.

While according to the Centre-run System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting (SAFAR), the overall air quality index (AQI) of Delhi was 322, which fell in the 'very poor' category, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) recorded an overall AQI of 297 which is in the 'poor' category.

An AQI between 0 and 50 is considered "good", 51 and 100 "satisfactory", 101 and 200 "moderate", 201 and 300 "poor", 301 and 400 "very poor" and 401 and 500 is considered to be "severe".

The SAFAR had last week forecast that the air quality of the national capital is expected to "significantly deteriorate" Sunday due to a decline in temperature which might lead to entrapment of pollutants.

However, even after "significant deterioration", the air quality is likely to stay in the 'very poor' level, it had said.

SAFAR said the air quality in Delhi is "very poor" and at present there is "insignificant intrusion (of pollutants) from outside of Delhi". Mpost

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