Four months ago, Anushka Seth, then three-and-a-half-years old, came with her parents on a holiday to Calcutta from Singapore.
Within a few days of their arrival, Anushka developed such severe respiratory problems that the family was forced to call in paediatrician B.K. Manocha. The child was admitted to a private medical centre off Park Street.
'Having lived in the clean environment of Singapore, the Seths were vulnerable in the highly-polluted environment of Calcutta,' Manocha said on Friday. 'For the child, the city air, laden with a high level of RPM (respirable particulate matter) was pure poison.'
With recent surveys showing 56 per cent of Calcuttans suffering from lung trouble and over 40 per cent Calcuttans suffering from upper respiratory tract infection, it is no surprise that the asthma clinic at the Institute of Child Health is invariably full.
'Of the 200 children we see in our out-patients' department every day, around 60 are found to be suffering from respiratory problems. We have been studying each case carefully and there is no doubt that environmental pollution is wreaking havoc on our children,' said Apurba Ghosh, paediatrician and director of the institute in Park Circus.
He went on to warn that the disease could gradually turn into chronic bronchitis.
In another part of the city, three-year-old Shipra (name changed on request) is gasping for breath.
She lives in Shyambazar, one of the city's most polluted areas, and had to be rushed to Dr BC Roy Memorial Hospital for Children on Friday, with constant wheezing and breathing problems.
Like Shipra, around 70 patients have been admitted here over the past week with respiratory problems. The children are suffering from both upper and lower airway disease, ranging from allergic rhinitis, tonsillitis laryngitis, sinusitis to asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia.
S.K. Roy, paediatrician with BC Roy, who has been seeing patients in Calcutta for the past decade, recounts a time when diarrhoea used to be the main complaint. But now, respiratory diseases rule.
'The severity of the diseases due to high pollution levels have also increased, making it all the more difficult for us, and also the patients,' said Roy.
Quoting a recent survey conducted by the Central Pollution Control Board and the Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute, respiratory diseases expert Asok Sengupta said 47 per cent of Calcuttans suffer from lower respiratory tract infection, compared with 35 per cent in rural Bengal.
'What we are seeing is only the tip of the iceberg. One out of every three patients with respiratory diseases I see has been exposed to air pollution,' observed B.K. Manocha.
And the government continues to hide behind a smokescreen.