After every trip to the hospital, six-year-old Priyansh gets a breather in the park. Through this season, he has made frequent trips from his home in Mayur Vihar to Delhi's Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital for check-ups after repeated complaints of cough, fever, cold and tonsillitis. He's missed school today and he has to be back tomorrow to know the diagnosis of the tests done this afternoon.
Priyansh's mother says he's fallen ill so often this winter, she doesn't remember how many times he has had to miss school.
"He has had trouble with cold and cough before. This time has been particularly bad," she says.
Priyansh's bouts of illness are symptomatic of a larger problem in Delhi.
Through this winter, Particulate Matter2.5 or PM2.5 levels, a very harmful pollutant that gets deposited in our lungs have been two-three times the normal level - even peaking to four-seven times during smog. Sometimes it has gone as high as eight-ten times the regular levels.
Even the levels of PM10, that's also a pollutant, though less severe than PM2.5, have jumped by 75 per cent since 2007, almost negating the relief got from the introduction of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) a decade ago.
What's worse, the report by Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority submitted in the Supreme Court cites a 2012 study - that says one out of every three children in Delhi have reduced lung function. At total of over 11,000 children from 36 schools were surveyed over different seasons to tabulate the data. The report also says sputum of Delhi's children contains four times more iron-laden macrophages than those from cleaner environs, indicating pulmonary haemorrhage. The levels of these biomarkers in children have been found to be higher in areas with high PM10 levels. Another study conducted in 2010 by the Health Effect Institute, Boston, estimates at least 3000 premature deaths annually due to air pollution related diseases.
Former Solicitor General of India, who is the Amicus Curiae in the case, Harish Salve said, "With 3,000 deaths every year, we are creating a Bhopal every year. And the irony is that no one in the political class is bothered."
The Supreme Court has issued notices to the Centre and the Delhi government asking how they plan to tackle air pollution that's increasingly turning out to be a silent killer. The next hearing is scheduled for March.