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Delhi’s pollution hotspots: Nothing idyllic about North Campus

Part 5: In smog-wrapped premises brimming with vehicles, students say they try to spend as little time outside as possible to escape pollutants

delhi Updated: Jan 12, 2018 10:13 IST
Sweta Goswami
Sweta Goswami
Hindustan Times
Delhi air quality,Delhi pollution,Delhi pollution hotspot
Vehicular population, especially that of two wheelers, in North Campus has increased exponentially over the past few years. (Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)

Winter mornings in Delhi University’s North Campus is contrary to the perception many would have about a university campus. Instead of the lush green gardens for students, the smog clad area is marked by endless honking and traffic jams. Rather than enjoying the walk to their colleges, students try to spend minimum time outdoors.

“Have you seen the smog? Who would want to walk in such conditions and inhale all the pollution,” said Suchita, who goes by her first name and is pursuing Masters in Education in DU. While Suchita, a resident of Jamshedpur, goes to her college from Vishwavidyalaya Metro station in an e-rickshaw, there are students, mostly Delhiites, who zoom into college gates riding snazzy two-wheelers.

This season, pollution levels in North Campus have hovered between very poor and severe categories making it an unusual suspect among the usual hotspots like Anand Vihar and RK Puram.

On January 2, the concentration of pollutant PM 10 in North Campus shot up to 629 micrograms per cubic metre which is over six times the prescribed level. Over the past one week, the lowest it saw was 250 mg/m3 which was recorded on December 29. With toxicity in the air increasing over the years, DU’s department of community medicines initiated a study on the impact of pollution on those living in the area and suffering from respiratory ailments.

“The study revealed that during periods when levels of particulate matter was high, the number of bronchial asthma attacks in patients increased by 1.5 to two times,” said Dr Arun Sharma, Professor and head of the Department of Community Medicines in DU. But, what are the factors that make DU the new pollution hotspot of Delhi? After visiting the campus and its adjoining areas, and speaking to experts, HT narrowed down on five sources that are polluting the area.

Centre of learning now a pollution zone
With emission from vehicles and industries as well as dust from construction sites, North Campus has emerged as a pollution hotspot
Traffic : The number of vehicles has grown exponentially. With no restrictions on traffic, even students like to zoom into college gates using snazzy two-wheelers
Construction : Work is on at Mukarba Chowk nearby leading to accumulation of dust and particulate matter. A number of houses in nearby areas also undergo expansion round the year, leading to dust and accumulation of malba that is not disposed properly
Location : Wazirpur industrial area, Azadpur Mandi, ISBT and Ring Road are high-emission areas close to the campus

Too many vehicles and an open campus

For some students it is a fashion and for others a nightmare, vehicular population, especially that of two wheelers, in North Campus has increased exponentially over the past few years. But neither the traffic police nor the transport department maintained any data of the average vehicles plying in the area.

Emphasising on the need for area-specific studies on pollution, its sources and impact, Dr Raj Kumar, acting director of DU’s Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute attributed the primary cause of pollution in North Campus to heavy vehicular movement. “I do not know of any study that has been done on this nor can I hint at any pattern that I have seen in patients as the institute is a referral one and people come from all over the country. But, the increasing vehicular population is a big factor,” Kumar said.

Even as the students’ union of the university has never taken up the issue of pollution, there are students who believe that the air could be improved by restricting the number of vehicles in the area.

“The major drawback here is that unlike JNU or IIT, our’s is an open campus. The authorities talk of pedestrianising CP, they should do it here instead. Only rickshaws or cycles should be allowed,” said Amarjeet Singh, a second year student in Shri Guru Tegh Bahadur Khalsa College. Besides, the presence of two petrol pumps in the area further increases the vehicular load there.

The busy Ring Road, Kashmere Gate Inter-State Bus Terminal and Azadpur mandi — all are only about three kilometers away from the campus in terms of aerial distance. While the Azadpur fruits and vegetables Mandi sees around 10,000 goods vehicles daily, the Kashmere Gate ISBT gets at least 1900 buses.

Apart from this, the Ring Road and the ongoing construction of the signal free corridor at Mukarba Chowk are also other sources. “More the vehicles, more is the dust. This phenomenon is known as aerosolaization of dust which is quite harmful as it has direct relation with PM 10 and PM 2.5 levels,” said Dr Chirashree Ghosh, Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Studies, DU.

Industrial area and proximity to ridge

Wazirpur, which is less than 5km from the campus, has multiple small scale industries that seldom go through inspections, experts say. As per the rule, industrial areas are supposed to be monitored under a comprehensive environmental pollution index (CEPI) system where there has to be continuous monitoring. “But, that is not being done and there is no publicly available data,” said Sharma.

Most of these industries are that of electroplating units, dyeing, pickling and forging, among others which emit gaseous pollutants like sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide. At any given time the PM concentration at Wazirpur hovers around 230-400 or even more, which is also nearly 4 to 6 times the standard.

According to Ghosh, DU’s proximity to the Kamla Nehru ridge is also a cause of pollution. “Moisture over the ridge area traps pollutants,” she said adding that proximity to the Yamuna floodplain is another reason. “Since the floodplain is nearby, the concentration of secondary pollutants like ozone also increases as it releases hydroxyl radical which is one of the most powerful oxidisng agent.

First Published: Jan 12, 2018 10:11 IST