After listening to the thought-provoking session- “I vote for clean air” by Mr. Vimlendu Jha, an environmentalist and founder of Swechha, I was forced to think about the importance of clean drinking water and clean air that we often neglect. Hearing him at the YKA Summit made me realise that we all are aware of this, but we prefer to ignore it at this moment- because we have alternatives available. What we do not realize and what has been the pressing point for Mr. Jha as well as for almost 80% of our population, is the lack of access to private solutions that temporarily solve these issues. What’s even more interesting is that we do not care enough about doing anything to solve these problems. As Mr. Jha stated, “We look at private solutions for public problems”.
We have become dependent on private sources in order to get good quality air, water and ‘cleaner’ environment. He was saddened by the fact that names like sintex and aircon have become our survival resources, rather than working upon the upkeep of our natural resources.
Just the way children are sent to private schools because government schools are not considered good enough, government hospital visits are replaced by a costly visit to private hospitals, similarly, since we are not getting pure water and air we have got RO’s and air purifiers installed in our homes. But why don’t we think of planting more trees instead? Today, education, health, roads, transport, mobility, everything has a private solution.
Sharing some shocking statistics on the environment, he mentioned that India has 16 river basins, but 60% of us have no idea about which river basin we belong to. The reason behind this is the temporary private solutions that are easily available.
Since the last three years, air quality index has gone down drastically in Delhi. For almost three months in a year, the bad air quality shoots up to 800- 999 micrograms per cubic meter. It goes beyond this but cannot be recorded because the meter does not go beyond it, so we do not even know the actual statistics. Out of the total 500- 550 monitors available, only 300 places where air quality is monitored are in rural India, and 320 are in cities. Hence, we do not even know how polluted our air is.
One of India’s most credible reports on public health, Lancet, shares that 25 lac people died due to pollution in 2015, which is the highest in the world. Global Burden of Disease Report shares that air pollution causes more than 42 lakh early deaths, out of which 11 lakh occur in India alone. But people’s death certificates do not say that they died because of pollution despite all the numbers. We do not complain. We are not vocal about this. And if people do complain, what happens is the occurrence of the recent episode in South India where 13 people were killed, because they protested against a factory that was causing them cancer. “Is this the right to breathe air? Is this our democracy?”, questioned Mr. Jha.
He further questioned the political intent of the government, adding that the Swachh Bharat report claims Indore, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra to be the cleanest states. Supreme Court came heavily on these states that have been ranked the cleanest, as they do not even have a law on solid waste management.
He further added that the Delhi government had permitted to cut around 16500 trees, to build houses for govt. officials. Everyone is cutting trees for some or the other reason and are ready to buy air purifiers without thinking about the long-term impact.
Every third child in Delhi has impaired lungs according to a report. All of us are aware and have acknowledged the fact that almost 30% of the air pollution is caused due to vehicular pollution, but we do nothing about it. This is evident from the fact that no public bus has been added in Delhi in last three years. 30 – 40% of the air pollution is caused due to dust particles, open burning of waste, landfills etc. but no one is doing anything about it except looking for private solutions.
He shared that we are so much involved in ‘bigger’ issues like building temples etc. that we fail to think, “ki saans kahan lenge (where will we breathe?), Iss par sarkaar charcha nahi karti (The Government does not talk about this).” It is not something we will face in the future, it is happening now. He concluded that the solution is not planting millions of trees, but to focus on how many of them survive, knowing the fact that there is a deficit of 9 lac trees that exist.
For constructing flyovers, smart cities, airports etc. much prevalent in smaller cities, more and more obstruction and destruction is taking place, which is terrible. If we continue to live our lives at this pace, and stop realising that the problem of air, trees, transport and waste is interconnected, we will need approximately 1400 sq. Km. space to throw our waste, which is equivalent to the area of Chennai, Hyderabad and Mumbai.
“We need to ask the government this question that where will then the waste go and how will you and I survive?”