Sanjay Kumar

My name is Sanjay Kumar, I’m 17 and I’m from a town called Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh. I’ve lived in Delhi for two years. I’m studying science. I moved to Delhi to study here and since then I have been working as an ice cream wallah to make ends meet. I start my work at eleven in the morning and, depending on how business is going, I can finish after one at night. In the summer days, those are my normal hours. I study when I can in between serving customers. There are many hours when I have no customers so I have time to learn and to do my homework here.

I never really thought about [the Delhi air] before. Sometimes I cough for the usual reasons, because of flu or other illnesses. But, actually, yes I would say that sometimes I cough because of the pollution in the air. Normally when people are cleaning, that’s when a lot of dust is rising into the air, so generally in the morning. I sometimes start coughing when a street sweeper passes by sweeping up the morning’s rubbish, the dust from their broom goes into the air. You can see it. But in all honesty, I couldn’t say if one cough is from air pollution or if it’s a normal cough, or it’s some irritation or if it’s some flu.

But there’s actually one day I can specifically remember. It was the 19 August and I literally was sceptical of taking my ice cream cart out for business because there was so much pollution in the air. When I take my cart out in the morning, that’s when people are cleaning the streets and I was coughing so much. I just couldn’t imagine being outside on the street all day. But I did go out, only because I really need the money from my job. But on this particular day the pollution was so bad. I think the air in Delhi is changing often, some days it is ok and then on others it is unbearable and that day a few weeks ago was really awful.

It was just too much for me to bear. I was coughing from the minute I woke up and going to work that day just didn’t seem worth it. I thought I could actually get ill from the pollution that day. So I didn’t want to take my cart out. So I was coughing a lot because of the really bad air, it was so thick. My biggest fear was that I would fall seriously ill and then I wouldn’t be able to work and study. This work is important for my studies. That was my biggest fear, but nevertheless I came out that day to sell ice cream.

In my opinion, the biggest contributor is actually the overpopulated streets of Delhi by vehicles. The number of cars is so high. Sometimes I have to cover my face when I’m pushing my cart and a vehicle accelerates in front of me, when it’s changing gear or something. They suddenly let out a huge cloud of black smoke and it surrounds me and my cart. So what I see is that it’s actually the sheer number of vehicles on the streets that is mainly contributing to the air pollution.

It takes about half an hour to get here and back to where I sleep. In between I push the cart around here and there, wherever customers may be congregating. I have to pass by the Fortis hospital each day to get here. I feel that place is extremely badly polluted. It’s not just polluted by smog or dust but there is an open sewer there, and the stench is unbearable. I have to cover my face when I cross that area each morning, it’s repulsive.

Outside the college is a very good place for selling my ice cream. It’s close by here. It’s not as polluted as the other areas. I’ve moved here now because the college is shut at the moment. It’s not so polluted because it’s quite well kept, there are many cleaners there each morning so in the afternoon it is quite nice there.

I got a rash on my back and my neck when I moved to Delhi and with this new knowledge I believe it may have been caused by the air pollution. I had to buy medicines that cost 2,000 rupees (£25 approx) which is a lot of money for me. Maybe it makes sense that when these pollutants are in your blood stream that could cause such an effect.

If the municipal government of Delhi – the cleaning department – want to, they can improve this situation. But they can only do so to a certain extent. If people don’t improve themselves, there’s no way we can achieve a cleaner or a greener Delhi in twenty years from now. It is possible to slow down the rate at which air pollution increases but you can’t make a big change without the people making a big change too. The government are in some way limited by the people living here. Government can marginally reduce the level of pollution but unless and until the people change their ways and attitudes not much will be achieved.

[People need to change] by being more environment conscious. For example, when people eat packaged food they just throw the trash on the street. Of course, that’s not going into your lungs but it’s the mentality. People are really less environment conscious and they’re just throwing trash everywhere and it gets incredibly smelly. That same attitude reflects in the way they live, like driving when it’s not really necessary. My point is that if people don’t change, we will never have a clean Delhi.

[People taking the bus or metro could] will help if people used public transport more. Taking public transport reduces the number of vehicles on the streets and that will bring down pollution. [But] why would anyone want to spend money on public transport and leave their car at home? People want show off their wealth. If you saved all the money to buy a car then you would not leave it on the street. You would drive everywhere that you can. Some very wealthy people think it’s below their status to travel in a bus. They would never let go of their cars. They want to be in the luxury of their own cars… If you have a car you don’t need to go to a bus stand and stop and wait for a bus or a metro…

Even if it takes longer, I try to use the quieter, more residential streets because there are so many flyovers and big highways here. My cart is not permitted on the flyovers but, sometimes, I have to take the highway because there is no way to get the cart back home. I get very tired and in the evening it is very dangerous for me to be walking with the cart on those roads. Cars are travelling very fast, but what can I do? The roads are the only way to move around. I cannot use the bridges to cross over the big roads so it is quite difficult to think of some other way to make it easier to move the cart here.