On Wednesday afternoon, as the national capital was engulfed in a toxic haze, 20-year-old student Sajid Hussain stood at the traffic signal in front of India Gate with a placard in his hand.

“Red light on, gaadi off,” declared the placard, which Hussain held up as soon as the traffic lights turned red. Twenty seconds later, the lights changed. The cars drove ahead.

Hussain has been recruited as a civil defence volunteer for the Delhi government’s anti-pollution campaign called “Yuddh, pradushan ke virrudh”, literally the war against pollution.

As a footsoldier in the war, he earns Rs 623 a day. This comes at a cost: exposure to vehicular emissions and ambient pollution has left him gasping for breath.

“I have developed some breathing problems,” he said. But what bothered him more was that most drivers did not switch off their cars at the signal. “The signal is just 20 seconds…by the time we go to tell them the light turns green,” he said.

The campaign to switch off vehicles at 100 traffic signals situated in the busiest parts of Delhi started on a pilot basis on October 21. It will continue till November 15 after which it will end. At least 2,500 civil defence volunteers have been roped...

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