Meet The Kids Who Want To Fix Delhi’s Deadly Air

Six young children are taking on the government to protect the green space in their neighbourhood.

WrittenBy:Ishan Kukreti
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In the western corner of Delhi, six kids from Mundka have approached the National Green Tribunal (NGT) – to get a playground that happens to be the only green space in their neighbourhood.

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The kids – Umesh Singh (17), Aditi Bharadwaj (12), Prince Lakra (16), Harsh Dahiya (15), Abdul Razzaq (13) and Vivekananda – collectively filed a petition in NGT on December 5. The tribunal has sent notices to the Ministries of Environment and Urban Development, Delhi government, Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and Central Pollution Control Board on December 26.

“We can either play in the narrow lanes or we have to go to Surajmal Stadium, which is 15 kms from here,” said Razzaq. Behind him stood his father, Muhammad Younis Khan, a social worker who quit his job of repairing generators because they cause pollution. While Razzaq spoke to Newslaundry about the pollution and their legal battle, Younis often prompted his son and nodded enthusiastically from time to time. Evidently, the fight is as much the father’s as it is the son’s.

The Khans live in Rajdhani Park, one metro station away from Mundka towards central Delhi. Three kilometres away is Swarn Park, where Prince and Harsh live. Harsh rattled off the pollution levels in his neighbourhood. “Our area has 550 ppm pollution and when we got the same checked in Paschim Vihar, it came out to be 190 ppm,” he said. Prince, looking visibly distraught, said, “I have breathing problems. I cough a lot. The pollution has also impacted my skin.”

The area mentioned in the children’s petition, Mundaka-Kirari, is roughly 4,626 acres. Of this, about 1,400 acres or 30 per cent is industrial area. Another 325 acres or seven per cent is commercial area. The remaining 2,875 acres or 62 per cent is residential. However, the area has a green patch of barely 30 acres or about one per cent.

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According to Delhi Development Authority Master Plan 2021, an area of 111 acres for recreational purposes has to be maintained per one lakh people in a residential colony. The plan also stipulates that 10-12 per cent of total industrial area be maintained as recreational or green buffer space. Nothing of the sort is visible in Mundaka-Kirari.

“Right now we have to play on the streets. It’s not safe,” said Umesh, who lives in New Friends Colony, Mundka and added, “That park is the only place where we can play.”

The park Umesh was talking about is a vacant 147-acre piece of land currently owned by Delhi State Industry and Infrastructure Development Corporation (DSIIDC). It is situated between New Friends Colony and Rani Khera in Mundka and is the only area where kids can play. The rest of the land is either constructed upon or off limits. But the DSIIDC land will soon be converted into an industrial area. The petition urges the tribunal to turn the land into a biodiversity park or a green buffer.

Although 147 acres sounds a lot, given the population of the area – a staggering 6,25,525 in just 4262 acres – it is well within the limit as dictated by the Master Plan.

“There is already an industrial area here. Why does the government want to construct on the only green patch left here?” asked Diwan Singh, a local activist.

The moment one crosses Nangloi metro station, both sides of the roads are lined with timber stores. Although this is not industrial activity, diesel trucks going to and from these stores are a major source of pollution. In fact, trucks occupy more space on the road among the parked vehicles in the service lanes.

“There were many plastic and rubber recycling industries here,” said Ranjit Singh Verma, Umesh’s father. “A court order last year has banned them. But many still function illegally. I can show you many people here who suffer from respiratory diseases.”

Dr Vikas Maurya, a senior consultant respiratory, allergy and sleep disorder at BL Kapoor super speciality hospital categorised Delhi into Green, Yellow and Red zones in ascending order of pollution levels. According to him the area is a red zone. A local physician, Dr Praveen Parashar said many of his patients suffer from respiratory diseases like asthma and tuberculosis.

The petition even states that air pollution test done by Centre for Science and Environment on February 5 and 6, 2016 found PM 2.5 levels to be 556ug/m3. This was 3.8 times higher than the rest of Delhi.

Apart from the recycling industry, there are others feeding into the pollution levels here. There are chemical industries, smelting factories and shoe manufacturing units. Ranjit complained that the noise from the factories makes it difficult to sleep at night – a fate many share for being next door neighbours with factories.   

The petition merges these two concerns. “We filed the case keeping air pollution in mind. But the biodiversity park is also part of the petition,” said Meera Gopal, the advocate representing the kids in NGT. The notice sent by NGT was about the air pollution in the area. The next hearing of the case is on January 27.

“Because of pollution I had breathing problem and the doctors told me to wear a mask while outside,” said Aditi Bharadwaj. Even as she twisted her fingers nervously, the deadly seriousness with which she takes this issue is unmistakeable. When asked how she’d feel if the land was used to set up a toy factory, she replied grimly, “I don’t want such toys.”

The DSIIDC land will remain her playground till the time the guards don’t chase her away. But she along with her companions plan to take full control over their play area.  

“The government will have to listen to us. If they can listen to industrialists, why not us?” Abdul asked.

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