If you are in Delhi and think that morning walk, paddling bicycle and practicing yoga during the dawn this winters is the mantra for a healthy start to the day, then here is a word of caution for you.
Early mornings, even in the most green covered areas of the national capital, are in the grip of deadly pollution levels this winter, finds a latest Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) study conducted during October and early December.
"As you do your morning walk in that so called fresh air, you are actually breathing in air which is thick and heavy with particulate pollution," said CSE in a statement here on Thursday.
The study was conducted by real-time monitoring of eight individuals through a portable air quality monitoring equipment in various parts of the city and different hours of the day. This personal exposure level was then compared with officially recorded readings given by the nearest monitoring stations in the city.
"Our data is quite shocking -- we have found that daily personal exposure to toxic air is significantly higher than the background ambient air pollution that is monitored by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee. This is a serious risk to public health," said Sunita Narain, director-general at CSE.
Most readings showed that the personal exposure of these individuals to fine particle readings was three-four times higher than that recorded by the monitoring stations.
Official air pollution monitoring gives us details about ambient air pollution level but in personal capacity, we breathe much more than the background air and hence the readings are higher, explained Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director-research and advocacy, CSE.
Even Lutyen's zone, home to the political powerhouse of the country and expected to be cleanest and greenest in Delhi, showed exceptionally high values for particulate matter, said the findings.
For instance, Bhure Lal, chairperson, Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority for Delhi- National Capital Region was monitored and his readings showed that the pollution level was the highest between 5.50 am and 6.50 am when he had gone for a walk in Lodhi Garden during the period when survey was conducted.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself practices yoga exercises daily and was successful in his appeal to international leaders to declare June 21 as World Yoga Day.
"Yoga exercise needs clean air and without that even yoga would not do wonders," Narain told Business Standard.
CSE also measured pollution level through the National Air Quality Index, announced by the Ministry of Environment and Forest recently, during the winter months this year and found that people in Delhi breath unhealthy air almost half the day.
"We found that 53 per cent of the days monitored for PM 2.5 are in very poor category and 47 per cent of the days are in severe category. The cocktail of pollution can be deadly for Delhi which is already grasping for breath," said Roychowdhury. This was based on the data provided by the state government.
The index is classified into six categories - good, satisfactory, moderately polluted, poor, very poor, and severe - with colour coding ranging from green to dark red. This index transforms various air pollution levels into a single number for a simple description of air quality to citizens.
If pollution level falls in severe category, it could have respiratory effects even on healthy people and serious health implications on people suffering from heart and cardiac problems, said Narain.
A World Health Organisation study released in May this year showed that Delhi is the most polluted city in the world in terms of air quality.