Second in the Series: HOW’S LIFE?

“Delhi’s pollution has become a public health emergency. Much stronger participation from the community and key institutions is required.”

India International Center hosted a panel discussion titled ‘How’s Life’ as a part of the series Delhi Matters-Talks and Discussions on 29th December, 2017. The discussion aimed at addressing citizen centric issues pertaining to Delhi and the NCR , exploring solutions and inspiring people to contribute actively in making their neighborhoods a better place to live in.

Dr Isher Judge Ahluwalia is the Chairperson of the Board of ICRIER and who was Chairperson of Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs’ High Powered Expert Committee on Urban Infrastructure chaired the session and highlighted the role of citizens in demanding better planning and governance.. Emphasizing the dismal state of service delivery, bad quality of air and water and lack of efficient execution of plans, she encouraged the audience to think positively and be hopeful of change and feasible options . She concluded by saying, “Change is possible when citizens demand for it. All you need is the will to change. It is all in our hands.”

Dr Isher Judge Ahluwalia, Chairperson of the Board of ICRIER

The lead speaker, Pallavi Aiyar, an international journalist and award winning author, who has reported across South East Asian countries and published widely spoke about growing environment pollution facing developing countries.

She begun by sharing her association or rather her “long and intimate relationship” with the issue of air pollution. Having lived in Delhi, Beijing and Jakarta amidst fumes, smoke and factories, she was always surrounded by a polluted landscape. She pointed out that a common string between polluted Asian countries is the attitude of taking the toxic skies for granted and justifying pollution as episodes of bad weather or daily challenges that must be faced, in contrast to the developed economies who perceive it as a ‘horrific public health emergency’.

“Air pollution is one race that we all are winning,” she said “which is unfortunately a race to the bottom.”While quoting NASA satellite data as a reference, Ms.Aiyar said, “the levels of fine particulate matter worsened in India by 13% between 2010-2015. While China’s fell during that same period by 17%.”

Ms Pallavi Aiyar, an international journalist and award winning author

Describing the hazardous effects of various particulate matter on health, economy and the overall well-being of the people she comforted the audience by stating that most industrializing, populous and developing countries have undergone episodes of highly toxic and polluted air and eventually come up with the most practical local solutions.

“Pollution is a crisis and fact of life. But I think that the Emergence of a growing, health-conscious, middle-class, with a greater international exposure combined with truly appalling levels of pollution have begun to lead to an air wakening and air awareness among citizens.”

Ms Pallavi shared a few steps that are needed to tackle pollution levels in the whole region. Increasing the number of Air Quality Monitoring stations across the country in order to continuously monitor, assess and regulate the mix of pollutants needs to be established. She also noted that central interventions to curb pollution are not enough and a slew of regional interventions must work in tandem with the central action plan.

Mr. Keshav Chandra, Joint Secretary Ministry of Commerce who was also Chief Executive of Delhi Jal Board spread light on the fundamentals of air pollution in Delhi focusing on the chemistry of each pollution contributor. The six culprits were: Oxides of Nitrogen, oxides of Sulphur, Carbon Monoxide, Particulate Matter 10, 2.5 and Ground Level Ozone which emerge from six sources: vehicles, industries, road dust, biomass burning, parali burning in neighboring states and construction debris.In Delhi, NOX, Ground Level Ozone and PM 10 and 2.5 are critical and which are contributed by road dust, vehicular and industrial pollution.

Mr. Chandra argued that India had taken several steps from stopping coal-based industries and converting them to natural gas, shifting of public transport from petrol based to CNG., Pollution Control set ups established across the city and adopting Euro-2 to Euro-5 standards for compliance.

Dr. Jagan Shah, Director of National Institute of Urban Affairs, an Urban Planner and Design expert who is closely working on the Master Plan of Delhi 2041 shared his experiences and focused on existing gaps in the current situation. He highlighted a structural issue of an information deficit and awareness amongst the citizens; lack of data centric decision making relating and a need for a decentralized mechanism encouraging neighborhoods to monitoring their own air quality and taking relevant steps to curb it within the area.

Dr. Shah believes that public transport is the backbone needed to support better environment quality; it cannot be limited to construction of metro only Planning for pavements, footpaths, cycling paths, and buses to integrate with at all points was needed.The biggest problem was of capacity which needs to be augmented in all local bodies and to make community participation a stated requirement of planning – not just optional. He said that his organization was introducing this change in a big way as the new Master Plan is rolled out.

The panel discussion was ended by a lengthy question-answer session where several members in the audience brought out day-to-day practical issues that they face to curb pollution in their neighborhoods. Several questions also focused on the governance structure or the process of execution as opposed to the technologies or infrastructure support alone to curb the pollution crisis.

Dr.M Shahid Siddiqui