Delhi’s pollution hotspots: Mathura Road running out of breath
Part 1 of 5: Choked roads, ongoing construction and nearby industries, have turned one of Delhi’s arterial stretches — Matura Road — into a new pollution hotspot
Dr J Nataraju works as a scientist at Central Road Research Institute at Delhi’s Mathura Road. The 43-year-old is now thinking of taking voluntary retirement and moving as far as possible from what is one of the most polluted spots in the capital.
“I live in CSIR apartments at the corner of Ashram Chowk. Pollution is very high there. My son, Siddharth, has asthma, rhinitis and skin allergies. And it is because of the foul air,” Nataraju said.
Mathura Road — from Ashram to Sarita Vihar — has emerged as one of the new pollution hotspots in Delhi. On this stretch, Ashram Chowk forms a truck corridor with Faridabad in Haryana and Noida in UP making it one of busiest roads. Construction projects, Badarpur power plant (now shut), industries in Okhla and road dust further push up pollution to dangerous levels here.
Nataraju says though his nine-year-old son was diagnosed with respiratory ailments in 2015, problems had started ever since the family moved to Delhi in 2009. “He had been showing symptoms but we were not aware of the problem. We have an air purifier at home but we don’t see much difference in terms of his health. I don’t send him out to play. Instead, I take him to Siri Fort indoor stadium on my off days.”
Most CRRI staff living at Ashram Chowk have similar tales to share. Air quality in the area has been at alarming levels in recent times.
“My wife, Lakshmi, also keeps falling sick. Whenever we go to our home town near Vijaywada in Andhra Pradesh, she is fine. This is the reason I am considering voluntary retirement,” Nataraju said. Another CRRI employee Mohan Rao recently moved out of the Ashram apartment complex to Noida Sector 37. “Cough and cold had become a regular affair and we didn’t allow kids to go out to play. It’s much better in my new locality. My kids are happy. They can now go out and play,” Rao said.
Residents say the under-construction Metro station at Ashram Chowk is one of the reasons for high concentration of dust in the area. Anurag Pandey, a businessman who lives in the neighbouring Parmanand Estate, says they have to keep windows shut at all times. “There is so much dust here; we are forced to keep our windows shut, especially during winters. Whenever we step out, we make sure to wear masks,” Pandey, 40, said.
The Delhi Metro, however, claims that all necessary steps have been taken. “Water sprinkling is done on regular basis. Construction material is not allowed to be stored near the roads. Vehicles carrying the material are properly covered. Contractors are instructed to put tarpaulin around construction area,” DMRC spokesperson Anuj Dayal said.
The primary reason for high pollution at Mathura Road is the high volume of traffic. A large number of commercial vehicles, including trucks, pass through this stretch on way to or from Faridabad and Noida. The emission levels here worsen at night as trucks start entering the city at 11pm and beeline for this stretch.
Pradip Kumar, 33, who lives in a hutment near Harkesh Nagar bus stand, said the truck movement doubles the trouble for him and his family. “It gets difficult to breathe. My two daughters and my parents keep falling sick. We try and not venture outside at night,” he said.
An IIT-Kanpur study for 2013-14, found that in winters vehicles are the second largest and the “most consistent” source of particulate matter — PM10 and PM2.5 — a key pollutant in Delhi’s air. The study found that trucks accounted for the biggest share among vehicles at 46%.
A 2015 study by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) revealed that on an average 85,799 goods vehicles enter and exit Delhi from the nine points daily. “The total number of trucks that enter Delhi spew close to 30% of the total particulate load and 22% of the total NOx load from the transport sector,” the report said. NOx or nitrogen oxide is among the major pollutants in city’s air.
The Ashram Chowk intersection records 429,000 vehicles every day and adding to this is a bottleneck on the Bhogal side. With the road getting narrower till Nizamuddin railway overbridge, traffic is bumper-to-bumper for most of the time. When the vehicles are idle and the engine is running, more pollutants are released, especially in diesel vehicles.
The stretch has been a nightmare for commuters over the past two years because of repairs and diversions. The ongoing Metro construction has also reduced available road space, triggering traffic snarls on Ashram Chowk and Mathura Road. “Mathura Road area is influenced by major traffic, including diesel-powered heavy vehicles, loaded vehicles, non-conforming vehicles and so on,” said Central Pollution Control Board air laboratory chief, Dipankar Saha.
Another contributing factor for the acute pollution levels on Mathura Road is the Badarpur Power Plant. Though closed now as part of the graded response action plan, it still has an ash pond spread over hundreds of hectares of land. During summers, high winds suspend the fly ash. Okhla Industrial Area and Okha landfill site also add to the foul air quality.
“Industries operating in Okhla phase II and III could be one of the factors for pollution , apart from traffic. If the monitoring station was at Ashram Chowk, the readings would be much higher,” Dr S Velmurugan, senior principal scientist, Traffic Engineering and Safety Division, CRRI, said.