By Arun Ag:
I came across an interesting piece of news recently. A Canadian firm named Vitality Air is all set to sell fresh air in India. Each breath from this fresh air can costs INR 12.50 only. This price is indeed really cheap when it is compared to drinking water which costs 20 rupees per bottle. They claim that this will really help the capital’s citizens, although, it must be noted that New Delhi is no longer the world’s most polluted city. As per the 2016 WHO report, Delhi is now the 11th most polluted city globally. Thanks for the effort by the Delhi Government. Besides, Delhi soon also claim to be the first Indian city to breathe fresh air from cans!
The sad news is that four of our cities have made into the top 10 list. Gwalior and Allahabad decorate the second and third positions while Patna and Raipur own the sixth and seventh respectively. 17 of the 100 proposed Smart Cities figure on the list. The residents of these cities breathe poison day and night. This has comparatively increased the health and related expenditure of the population along with the concern for life expectancy and infant health.
According to the report, enormous and continuous increase of motor vehicles is the major causal factor behind this pathetic condition of the cities. The urbanisation of the country is on a rapid pace. The UN DESA 2014 report estimates that by 2050, India is projected to add 404 million urban dwellers. People tend to move to the cities in search of better prospects in all spheres including job, education, housing, health facilities and other amenities. They’re basically in search of better living conditions. But are our cities really livable?
The most pivotal point which has to be discussed about livability is the use of private motor vehicles. Indian cities are famous for vehicle usage and fuel emissions. We can see that many of the urban households have several vehicles of their own. In some families, each and every member possesses their own vehicle. These vehicles fill up our roads thus creating various issues including severe traffic jams. But usually, we don’t care about the quantity of emissions from those vehicles. The toxic emissions from them contaminate our air which leads to the rest of us being affected with various respiratory and other diseases.
But mostly people tend to ignore that fact and purchase new models of cars and two-wheelers so that they can maintain or raise their ‘status’ in society. They are unaware or knowingly avoid the fact that they are themselves killing the very environment we live in. This makes them diseased and forces them to spend more on medication to restore or sustain their health. Thus, in a way, they themselves build their graveyard.
Usually, we see people protesting for better quality roads for smoother and safe vehicle movement, but how often do we see protests for better footpaths and walking facilities? This is a matter of concern given the increased usage of motor vehicles. Citizens have forgotten to walk nowadays. Private motor vehicles completely dominate the roads which make pedestrian movement a fearsome adventure. And it seems the authorities do not pay much attention to pedestrian infrastructure.
School children, pregnant mothers, disabled and senior citizens constitute the community which usually suffers from this pedestrian-excluded development. It is really hard to walk in the Indian cities for any of these people. When foreign nations create more and more pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, we are still jiggling at infancy. A good chunk of pedestrian accidents is possibly caused due to the lack of proper pedestrian infrastructure and crossing facilities.
The next major concern about the livability of our cities are shrinking parks and open public spaces. Most of us would not like to walk on a busy road where vehicles rush to and fro with nasty horn sounds and polluted surroundings. This marks the importance of parks and open spaces. Public parks are the most affordable entertainment and leisure option for the masses. They provide a space to play, walk, jog, relax and rejuvenate. Parks are the one stop point for spending quality time with our family. Open spaces are also the oxygen factories of urban areas.
In the present and ongoing scenario of the development of India, parks and open spaces are heavily encroached upon to build skyscrapers, convention centers and shopping malls. It reduces the space for the unprivileged citizens of the city to enjoy and spend their leisure time along with the provision of clean air after their daily exposure to the polluted atmosphere. There is also a much wider impact when the trees are cut off, which diminishes the release of oxygen. How can we sustain ourselves without oxygen? We appear to be moving into an era when everybody would have to wear an oxygen mask to live. Just think about it. Does Vitality Air need us, or vice versa?
Car-free days are events which can promote awareness about building a livable environment for humanity. It tries to spread the message that livability is not only the rush of motor vehicles, building of skyscrapers but also having cycle paths, good and well-maintained footpaths, wide and equipped public parks and open spaces. Car-free days have been conducted in various parts of our country. More and more such events should be initiated all around the nation, not only for us but for our future ones too.
Once we had plenty of drinking water in our ponds, now we have canned water. Now, do we have fresh air? We have fresh air cans!
Featured image source: Priyanka Parashar/Mint via Getty Images.