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Indian authorities experiment with banning cars in Delhi to tackle pollution problem -

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JOHN BARRON, PRESENTER: Desperate to curb worsening pollution and traffic woes, authorities in Delhi had experimenting with banning cars from the roads. The Indian capital has the dubious distinction of beings world's most polluted city, with an air quality twice as bad as Beijing. With a population of 23 million, there are 9 million cars on the roads and scientists say that that's a major source of the pollution which is causing serious health problems for the locals. South Asia correspondent James Bennett reports.

JAMES BENNETT, REPORTER: As the sun rises through the smoggy haze of a New Delhi morning, a brave few are making the most of the city's relative autumnal cool. The pollution hangs visibly in the air. A morning heart-starter carries a different meaning and demands different clothing.

DELHI LOCAL: I wear a mask for the pollution, the early morning pollution levels are very high in the Delhi area, so that's why I wear it.

DELHI LOCAL: A lot of dust, a lot of dust, the smoke, smell, it's very bad.

DELHI LOCAL: When I was in the UK, I never felt cold, I was never sick, but when I came back to India, I started having fever, virus and cough and a never ending cough.

JAMES BENNETT: India is home to 13 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world. New Delhi is number one. 23 million people call the Indian capital home. Concentrations of some toxic particles are 20 times recommended World Health Organisation levels. One study recently even determined the health effects of exercising here actually outweigh the benefits.

ARUN SRIVASTAVA, PROFESSOR: Long-term impact, we have asthma, we have bronchitis. Important that there is significant direct linkage with the lung cancer to the air pollution.

JAMES BENNETT: Professor Arun Srivastava has studied New Delhi's air for nearly 20 years. He is in no doubt about the cause of its deterioration.

ARUN SRIVASTAVA: This huge number of vehicles, is the largest contributor of Delhi's air pollutants.

JAMES BENNETT: New Delhi has an estimated 9 million vehicles and counting. Over 1,000 new cars are joining the jams daily. Officials are now hoping that banning them from certain stretches will help improve the air. Also under consideration, a congestion tax to limit the number of trucks on the city's roads. The health concerns are also giving rise to an industry of its own. The air purifier market is big and growing business.

JAYATI SINGH, PHILIPS INDIA: Last year itself grew by almost 50, 60 per cent and this year again our expectation is that the business will almost double for us and also for the overall category.

JAMES BENNETT: Entrepreneurs, too, are seeing opportunity. One unique office building has become the talk of Delhi. 1,200 plants producing oxygen for workers.

BARUN AGGARWAL, DIRECTOR BREATHE EASY: I call this the lungs of the building. Essentially a greenhouse that we've set up on the rooftop of this building.

JAMES BENNETT: Barun Aggarwal's company is now installing similar offices and embassies across the city, bringing clean air to those who can afford it.

BARUN AGGARWAL: There is a marked difference outside breathing 400 micrograms of particulate matter and other gases like nitrogen dioxide, and sulphur dioxide versus when you come in this building where your particulate matter is at 2 or 3 micrograms per cubic metre.

JAMES BENNETT: Vowing to combat pollution is good politics as well as good business. Delhi's Chief Minister battled political rivals in the national Government and police force to go ahead with the car-free day, albeit scaled back. Held on a public holiday vehicles were allowed back on the closed streets from lunchtime.

The politicians and city officials behind this event acknowledge its value is entirely symbolic. With just of the a few kilometres of the city's vast road network closed to traffic for only a few hours, it is not expected to have a major impact on pollution levels. What they do hope is that it will go some way towards changing residents' attitudes towards public transport.

Delhi's continually expanding metro system carries millions to school or work each day, but in a country dissatisfied with anything less than 8 per cent economic growth, cars are as much a symbol of success as well as getting around. Persuading the outwardly mobile to abandon what they've strived to buy will be a difficult ask.