When political parties include the issue you had been fighting for years in their manifestoes for the upcoming elections, the job seems to be more than half done. So it happened with the untiring efforts of environmentalist Bhavreen Kandhari who, for years, had been wanting to jolt the powers-that-be into action regarding the ill-effects of air pollution in and around the national capital. Now her effort to get “clean air” included into the manifestoes of Delhi’s major political parties has finally bore fruit.
While the BJP mentions that it focus on a network of air purifiers and public transport along with promoting electric vehicles and solar energy as an alternative to coal thermal power plants, the Congress has pledged to use 25 per cent of their annual budget to work on Delhi’s air, bringing in 15,000 electric buses along with the commitment to zero waste from government and private offices and a fund for stubble-to-energy technologies. Aam Aadmi Party’s manifesto promises to plant crores of trees in the city, tackle the pollution from the Yamuna and reduce the overall level of emissions in the city.
Sharing this information, a rather elated but concerned Kandhari says, “With Delhi elections round the corner, it was crucial for us to talk about the importance of clean air and get it included in the manifestos of various political parties.” Kandhari spearheads the campaign, Dilli Dhadakne Do. “Delhi people are tired of living with toxic air, and are sick of an utter lack of concern shown by politicians. We have come up with the solutions, and it is time that our representatives listen to us,” she says.
“It’s a war like situation, and governments need to take emergency measures. Air pollution is costing us our children’s lives. We are now pushing the government to notify the National Clean Air Programme,” she adds. The Dilli Dhadakne Do campaign was launched in January 2020 with different citizen groups visiting various localities to speak to people about their experiences with pollution, share information and their own stories, and to ask people to “vote” symbolically, for a Delhi with clean air. As many as 1.9 lakh people from 30 different constituencies voted for clean air. “We have stacked the ballot boxes we used for this exercise into an artistic installation to show the support we got,” says Kandhari.
Not an easy journey
But the journey has not been easy, rather it has been an uphill task. “It all began sometime around 2006 when my twin three-year-olds began developing recurrent cold and cough. While they would cough incessantly in Delhi, the problem evaporated when they were on outstation trips,” she says. A little study and she realised that polluted air was the root cause. She began consulting doctors, scientists, government functionaries to find solutions but found none. “Back then, no one gave serious thought to air pollution,” she says. Some ignored, others mocked. Nothing happened. A decade went by.
It was in 2016 when the Delhi government launched the Odd-Even Scheme to check air pollution that Kandhari launched My Right To Breathe Citizen Collective. “Before that, no one spoke of air and it has not been easy for citizens like us to bring the importance of clear air into the prime agendas of the political parties,” she says.
“#MyRightToBreathe (MRTB) started as a hashtag movement for amplifying the digital presence of a common man’s voice against air pollution and neglecting environment. The movement gained momentum as the air quality worsened,” says Kandhari. Soon, it grew into Clean Air Collective comprising NGOs, civil society organisations, experts from various fields, journalists and parents.
“Today, the movement works proactively towards promoting behaviour change through school-based programmes, provide evidence for informed policymaking and implementation of solutions at the grassroot levels that will help improve overall environmental health in India,” she says, hoping whichever party gets to hold the reins of the city’s administration is sensitive towards the health of its citizens and get them clean air to breathe.
What must the Government do?
- Prevent biomass burning by providing LPG cylinders to all.
- Implement waste management Byelaws 2016.
- Enforce emission standards for industrial emissions.
- Move towards renewable energy sources like wind and sun.