Finally! Air Pollution Becomes A Voting Issue In Delhi This Election

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Delhi’s air quality has become a growing crisis for the last few years, with an alarming 80 people currently dying every day from air pollution-related causes.

Citizen-led movements around the city have sprung up to combat the crisis. They are protesting thermal power plants, the lack of public buses, the lax construction rules, and the agricultural pollution that make Delhi the gas chamber we live in. And in the last two years, the air pollution debate has moved from being a seasonal issue to one for the general public, led by young people, activists and medical professionals.

This year, for the first time, air pollution has become an election issue, and is occupying prime time alongside the usual agenda points of education, sanitation, electricity, and more. How? Over the last few weeks, thousands of Delhi residents have been gathering at town halls across the city to witness a new phenomenon: their local MLAs pledging to work for clean air.

The Reason Behind Delhi’s Alarming Air Pollution Crisis

saaf hawa
Dilli Dhadakne Do – a citizen led campaign to make pollution an election issue this Delhi Election!

Air pollution has yet to penetrate the framework of Delhi’s policy structure. Delhi has existing policies relating to renewable energy, improved public transport and waste management which would all be viable solutions to the air pollution crisis, and mitigate the effects of climate change, if they were better executed. But they haven’t been, and our pollution action plans are only used in an emergency – an emergency that happens every year!

What’s more, India has a Clean Air Action Plan (the NCAP), but it is more a set of guidelines than an act with any enforcing authority. Not only that, the air quality targets set by the NCAP don’t match the international ones set by the WHO. Even worse, a recent Down to Earth report highlighted the fact that only 312 cities and towns – which is 5% of the 6000 cities and urban areas in India – are covered by AQI monitors! How can we expect to succeed when we don’t even know what the air quality is?

In the recently announced Union Budget, Rs. 4,400 crore has been allocated to deal with air pollution in those cities that have a population larger than one million. While this is an increase from the Rs. 460 crore allocated last year, we are still missing the details on how this money will be spent, especially since the budget allocated to the MoEFCC is only Rs. 3,100 crore. Where will this money come from?

In September 2019, Delhi’s Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal announced that the air pollution levels in Delhi have reduced by 25% from the last few years. While his claim is debatable, it has moved other major political parties to make promises about the ways they will combat air pollution, setting the stage for air pollution to become a key issue in the upcoming elections. The INC manifesto has pledged 25% of the annual budget for tackling Delhi’s air. The BJP has announced a series of air purifier schemes. AAP is aiming for a one-third reduction in air pollution over the next 5 years. Each party is talking about electric vehicles, solar power and waste as solutions to air pollution for the first time.

More Delhi Residents Join The Fight

The upcoming 2020 elections in Delhi present the perfect opportunity to move the air pollution issue beyond political manifestos and establish it as a key party platform agenda. The #DilliDhadakneDo campaign is a citizen movement led by My Right to Breathe that empowers voters to hold their representatives accountable for air pollution solutions.

Our campaign has been working in each constituency in Delhi to collect people’s stories about air pollution, and to ask them if they will ‘give a vote’ for clean air. We have collected 1 lakh votes and counting.

vote for clean air
Citizens in Delhi are raising the call to make clean air a key election issue this February!

The campaign is going from constituency to constituency, asking local candidates to pledge to vote for clean air. More than 30 have so far, from AAP, BJP and Congress. To ensure they keep to their word, we’re presenting them with a Clean Air Manifesto, created by citizens groups around the city, asking them to sign a pledge to work towards the goals of the Manifesto if they win, and then take a picture.

The manifesto presents solutions focusing on improved public transport, better waste management, increased renewable energy and inter-state cooperation, amongst other solutions. It includes specific goals that residents would like to see in the next five years, such as 15,000 buses on the roads by 2025; 100% doorstep collection of waste, and most critically, a 65% reduction in air pollution by 2025 to meet national standards.

The Way Forward For Delhi

While politicians talking about air pollution is not always the most productive conversation, it is encouraging to see the increasing amount of public debate around the issue.

In one of the coldest winters that Delhi has ever experienced, these residents have suffered bad air quality – made worse by record-low temperatures – and are finally holding their representatives accountable.

Their stories are varied: families switching from an e-rickshaw to a van (ironically a more polluting form of transport) to send their children to school because of the air quality, people moving out of Delhi or wanting to move but being constrained by finances, people feeling the effects of air pollution, but not making the connection with the air quality, and the auto rickshaw drivers who are enthusiastically championing clean air solutions so they don’t have to spend their lives in toxic air: “Jo bhi sarkar banegi uss par mudda rakhna chahiye ke sabse pahele pollution ka control kiya jaye. Hamesha hamara vote jo bhi jaye, swachh Delhi par jaye.”

This article is part of a series on Youth Ki Awaaz, published by the #DilliDhadakneDo campaign. You can be a part of it too. Help us hold leaders to their word on the Clean Air Manifesto by sharing your pollution stories, and the solutions you’d like to see. Publish on Youth Ki Awaaz today, and we’ll take it to your leaders!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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