Jane Cowan reported this story on Tuesday, October 12, 2010. 08:23:00.

PETER CAVE: It’s one of the things that has gone right for Delhi during the Games – air quality.

Atmospheric pollution has actually subsided in the last decade despite the city’s growth.

But with more and more people able to afford cars, air quality is again under threat.

There’s hope the massive investment in public transport spurred by the Commonwealth Games will stem the flow of car ownership.

From New Delhi, Jane Cowan reports.
(bird noises)

JANE COWAN: In the centre of teeming Delhi there is a rare piece of serenity.

A P JANTI: The place where we are standing is a central ridge, and as you can see, there is a huge amount of trees, and you can see the biodiversity.

JANE COWAN: A P Janti is a research coordinator with the non-profit organisation Delhi Greens and sees this park as a lung for the city.

AP JANTI: But unfortunately, a lot of people in Delhi doesn’t know about this place. So, that’s why we organise eco tours, to bring people here, and to recognise that this is also a part of this city, so that they love these places, and actually conserve them.

JANE COWAN: Delhi’s air quality has improved since the nineties when it was said at its worst one person every hour died from the effects of pollution.

VIVEK NANGAR: I think we’ve come a long way now, in these last five or six years.

JANE COWAN: Dr Vivek Nangar heads the Department of Pulmonology at the Fortis Hospital in South Delhi.

VIVEK NANGAR: Earlier, around this time of the season, we would have hordes of patients coming to us for asthma, or bronchitis, allergies. But nowadays the number is significantly less.
(traffic noises)

JANE COWAN: The improvements are mostly thanks to a switch to natural gas for the city’s fleet of rickshaws, and clean fuels for the buses.

The Commonwealth Games have brought a huge investment in public transport with new metro lines opened and a sprawling bus depot reputed to be the largest in the world.

But traffic is responsible for 72 per cent of Delhi’s pollution, and with more than 5 million vehicles on the road, the sheer scale of it means air quality is again declining.

ANUTMITA ROYCHOWDHRY: It’s an aspirational issue. If the income levels go up, people will want to buy cars.

JANE COWAN: Anumita Roychowdhury is the associate director of Delhi’s Centre for Science and Environment. She says the city is at a critical juncture.

ANUMITA ROYCHOWDHURY: It’s very difficult to bring people back from cars to the bus. Whatever little gains we have made for the Games – it must last beyond the Games.

Don’t let people abandon the bus, the cycle, and the cycle rickshaw, to get onto the two-wheelers and the cars.

JANE COWAN: With 1100 new vehicles – including three to four hundred cars – coming onto the road each day, it’s no small challenge.

This is Jane Cowan in New Delhi, reporting for AM.

Click here to read this news report on AM’s website.