Mohammed Tafiq

I am from Delhi. My rickshaw is always open, [and] the air passes through it when I drive. So I feel the changes in the air quality when I go from area to area. Sometimes it’s very dusty, sometimes it’s very smoky and sometimes it’s full of exhaust fumes. I cough when I’m stuck in traffic, the air gets into my nose and chest and I have to cough and spit a lot. On the roads, I can notice that the air is changing. In some areas it’s extremely congested and in others it’s better.

It’s normal here [in Khirkee]. It’s quite moderate compared to other parts of Delhi. It’s a residential area so there is less traffic and people walk around here. On the main roads around this neighbourhood, it’s very bad. You notice the change immediately, but because there is less traffic here you can drive at a normal speed. On the main roads, you are surrounded by cars on all sides and often are driving very slowly due to traffic congestion. When all the cars are stuck in traffic and emitting the fumes because they are stationary, then it becomes hard to breathe. We drivers cover our faces when it’s really bad and when it’s very hot and the air is very bad. Right now the weather is fine, the wind is blowing a little and it is raining sometimes so it’s not the worst conditions at the moment.

Sometimes I get a really bad cough and occasionally a fever. The cough and fever come when the air is very thick. It gets so bad I can barely breathe. I believe the air is weakening my body and is making my illness worse. The calcium in my bones is lowering because of the air pollution too. I saw a doctor about my bones and he told me it’s because of the pollution. When there’s a lot of traffic, I get very tired when the pollution levels are high. Fatigue is a really big problem.

[This is due] to the pure number of cars on the streets. The petrol and diesel fumes coming from these cars is terrible. Because of my work, I really notice it. Myself and other rickshaw drivers experience and see the source every day, first hand. There’s a lot of cars and traffic. We don’t have any air-con or fans, so we experience the full force of the pollution.

I have never considered the smoke from cooking. In my daily life I see the fumes from cars and breathe that air all day so, when I am home, I don’t consider where the smoke from cooking is going.

I don’t think about [how to make the air cleaner]. It’s the government’s job. More CNG cars should come in, my rickshaw runs on CNG, so the emissions are much less harmful. There should be a reduction in the number of petrol and diesel cars on the roads. If people switched to CNG or electric cars that would make a big change for me personally. Planting more trees would help too.

Where my family live, it is very difficult to walk. There is a big road that separates us from the market. It can take so long in the evening to cross this road. There are many cars and they can be moving very fast. My children don’t take the crossing [bridge] because it is too far to walk. So I am worrying for their safety every day. In most parts of Delhi, the roads are very big, this is good for traffic flow but can be bad for people when they are not in a car. It can be dangerous. I have seen people get hit by cars when crossing the big roads, it is so dangerous. In the night I am feeling so tired and it is dark and people run in front of my rickshaw. I wish they would take the crossing, but also I am not taking the crossing. It takes so long. Even for short distances, I am taking customers to the closest shop that maybe they can walk. Older ladies and men sometimes use me to get to the shops because the road is so dangerous or is blocking their way. They can also use the rickshaw to carry the shopping home so it is also convenient in this way. But the big roads are very necessary for Delhi traffic.

When I get sick, then I take time off, that’s the only solution to avoid the road pollution. I don’t know any other way to protect myself. This is my livelihood, so what can I do? The pollution is there and I can’t avoid working in it. I have to do my job, that’s how I earn money for my family. If that’s the risk or danger of working in Delhi, I have to accept that.