College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota
College of Science and Engineering

Quality of the Delhi Air

In the morning we found ourselves back at TERI University for a series of three lectures about transportation issues and air pollution, and of course our favorite cups of chai. After just a few minutes of discussion, I was thankful we heard the air quality information statistics on one of the last days here.

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The air in Delhi rarely drops below permissible emissions levels (Credit: Alex Diemer)

The first presenter, Dinesh Mohan from IIT Delhi, focused on pollution from various transportation methods. He discussed the evolution of transportation and how with the increase speed of modes (from walking, to trains, to cars) we aren't saving time as the common argument would suggest, we are instead traveling further and he discussed the impact this has had on urbanization and air quality.

Next, we heard from two individuals who work at Sakha Cabs (, a cab service by women for women. The vision of Sakha Cabs is to train women in driving, self defense, legal rights, and first aid and then employ those women as cab drivers for other women throughout Delhi. We got to hear from one of the drivers who went through the training program when she was 19 and has been working at Sakha for the past two years. She told us a little bit of her story, the challenges she faced when becoming a driver, and the respect she has gained from her family and her community over the past two years. It was great to see an organization that had identified a clear need of safe transportation for women in the city, what they did to address this need, and the impact it is having on the community.

Nayantara, Sakha Cabs CEO, and Kushi, one of their inspiring drivers

Finally, we heard from an expert in air quality issues, Dr. Sarath Gurtikunda who is the founder of ( He let us know just how bad the quality of the air is that we have been breathing the past three weeks around Delhi, what contributes to the air quality issue, and some interesting approaches have been implemented attempting to solve this issue.

One theme that I found in the morning session is that there is a gap in knowledge between the scientific results found and information understood by citizens and also by those implementing the policy, which can result in negative consequences. An artist in Paris tried to solve this issue by taking an already famous attraction, a balloon which carries passengers 500 feet for 10 minutes giving a beautiful bird's eye view of the city, and recreated it to also be a public service announcement ( The balloon changes colors (red, yellow, or green) based on the information gathered by the air quality sensors in the balloon. It sounds ideal that the public is made aware of their habits and how it affects the quality of air they are breathing. However, maybe in the case of visiting a city that is six to seven times greater than the safety standard for air quality "ignorance is bliss."

-Makenzie Dixon


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