It’s just been two days since Diwali, but there’s already a thick layer of smog in the air of the national capital. My eyes water and throat feels itchy all the time.
This is all thanks to the terrible air quality index. The reading a day after Diwali was 999, while today, as I write this piece, it is at 588 in many parts of the city.
Just to give you an idea of what that means – an index reading between 51 to 100 is considered as moderate, while that between 301 to 500 is considered hazardous.
We were at 999!
To put these matters in perspective, The Better India spoke to Jyoti Pande Lavakare, the President of ‘Care for Air’, an organisation established in Delhi in 2015. It is an independent, volunteer organisation of concerned citizens from the National Capital Region who want to raise awareness about clean air.
To begin with, Jyoti points out that we need to acknowledge that poor air quality is a problem which impacts the poor far more than the rich and elite.
The inception of ‘Care for Air’
Upon moving back to India from California with her children, the one thing that often bothered Jyoti was the pollution.
“From being outdoors and enjoying the sun and crisp air, coming here was very different. My friend circle at that time consisted of many expats, and the deteriorating air quality was something that we all felt strongly about,” she says.
She goes on to say, “While we were all having these conversations among ourselves, the intent in starting ‘Care for Air’ was to take this conversation to many more people and come up with workable solutions to tackle the situation.”
The organisation focused on creating awareness. In 2014, they formalised it and with a website up and running, ‘Care for Air’ came into being.
Filing the Public Interest Litigation
In starting the organisation, Jyoti and the other core committee members realised that there were two categories of people being affected by the pollution: those who had the option of leaving the city and those for whom the city was home.
It was then that Gopal (the lawyer), decided to join the cause. He filed a petition on behalf of his toddler who was suffering because of the pollution levels.
It stems from a basic right – to breathe clean air.
“While the group initially consisted of many expats, it slowly started seeing Indians join and that gave it a larger impetus. The expats do have the option of going back. We saw that many who would come here for four-year terms, would cut their stint short and return. There were only two options before us – fight or flight,” shares Jyoti.
The four issues that the PIL is based on:
Issue 1: Relief from the burning of crops, which is known to be a major cause of air pollution in India. The petitioners are praying for a ban on this practice.
Issue 2: Better norms for fuel in India. The kind of fuel which we are using conforms with the lower Bharat III & IV norms, while we should be using fuel equal to Euro 6 norms.
Although Indian companies are manufacturing high-quality fuel, it is being exported and strangely, not being used in India.
Issue 3: Another concern is the movement of trucks through the city (Delhi). While a cess has been imposed, the organisation is pushing for a complete ban on the entry of trucks till they replace the polluting engines.
Issue 4: The pleas to impose a ban on firecrackers is also accompanied by research which shows that nearly 40 to 60 distinct metal chemicals are being in manufacturing fireworks. These are known to be carcinogenic.
Jyoti states, “The only agenda of our organisation is to ensure that we can provide good, clean air for our children. Allegations of various kinds are being levied on us, but if you see our petition, the ban on firecrackers is only one part of what we have sought.”
Here’s what you can do
Jyoti lists a few things that we can do on individual levels to help curb the rising pollution.
1. Start composting at home
You could start at your own home. And once you have understood the process, you could convince your immediate circle of friends and even your apartment’s Welfare Association to adopt this practice.
Read more about composting here.
2. Urge more parents to use school transport
While this may seem like a small thing, it makes a huge long-term impact. Jyoti says that not only environmentally, but ensuring that kids use the school transportation also inculcates a behavioural change in them. You will notice that they are more likely to take public transport as they grow up.
Also, as adults, we must start using public transport wherever we can. There are issues of last mile connectivity, but Delhi is fairly well connected.
3. Talk, talk, and talk some more about air quality
Unless we talk and educate people about the ill-effects of bad air quality, we are not going to be able to make a change. A majority of people still believe that this is not going to cause us any problems.
Winters in the national capital were once synonymous with visits to parks and the outdoors, but now, as parents, we check the air quality even before we step out for our daily chores. While the issue cannot be reversed overnight, we need to make a concentrated effort to bring about a change.
For more details about Care for Air, check their website.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)