Good Solutions for Bad Air

It has become a commonplace to open the morning newspaper and read about all the gloom and doom associated with Corona virus. Just a month ago, Indians (myself included) thought that we have overcome the Covid-19 pandemic and almost scoffed at situation of developed economies like France, Italy and USA. Cut to present time, the joke is on us and how…..India is literally the “topic of the world” when it comes to any discussion on the virus. This morning, I read that 80 countries have come forward to help India as we struggle through our crises. That’s half the number decent sized countries around the world. Even India’s neighbours are now offering aid and assistance which I find incredulous in ways more than one…..

I decided not to dedicate this blog on just another story of fatal statistics of India, government response or how ordinary citizen has nowhere to go. No, I thought it would refreshing to write something different – maybe something Indian and something positive – far away from vaccines and containment.

Every informed Indian knows that long before we learnt what Corona (not the beer!) was, we already knew that several hundred thousand Indians die every year prematurely due to the air pollution in our cities. The world’s top 10 polluted cities is dominated by India. Many things have been tried – odd/even days traffic management in Delhi, “no entry” for commercial vehicles during daytime, statutory fines and penalties, smog killers, better technology vehicles to contain the exhaust smoke. It’s debatable whether it has worked or not. Opinions vary depending on who you are, what you do and where you live.

Very recently a group of young Indians were conferred the honor of being “Air Quality Champions” by none other than the World Bank in a competition that saw over 1500 participants. The challenge was not that simple. The participants have to come up with air pollution control solutions cutting across administrative boundaries and with multi-sectoral approach. Cutting to the chase, what amazed were the quality of solutions proposed by the winning teams. From being thoughtful to simple to pure brilliant.

One team proposed to “visualise” the air pollution to generate for more awareness and therefore lead to action. The team proposed leveraging new technologies such as Augmented Reality, LED Screens, and Smart Glasses to make the deleterious effects of air pollution more visible daily to citizens. Another winning team proposed ideas such as: Hospital on Wheels Campaign to create awareness and provide quality healthcare on the go; Sahayak, a campaign to train anganwadi or rural healthcare center workers; and the Campaign for Lung Cancer Awareness. My favourite awareness campaign came from a team that used Gurugram as an example. They stated that this “millennium city” had a mere 40 days of clean air in the year 2020. They were winners won the competition for their clear theory of change and comprehensive framework for an airshed management approach to air pollution. While there are just “ideas” and the naysayers shall as always be dismissive about them – I generally believe that when all else has failed (let’s face it – we haven’t been able to control the pollution, have we?) the solutions may come from the most unexpected quarters.  I think in the new age the most successful solutions would those that integrate latest technologies like Augmented Reality with creating awareness that drive towards actionable steps. Coupled with this a definite change of attitude is necessary at all levels. The polluting companies should be named and shamed. Consumers should boycott buying products of such companies. The enforcement of laws should be made accountable, in other words, there should be a group of incorruptible citizens to punish those who are responsible for (or the lack of) enforcement. I’m thinking every state should constitute one person of level of retired Judge to oversee the enforcement of implementation, something like what the “Metro Man” did for the local rail transit system of Indian cities. If we don’t now, many of us shall not live long enough to see action being taken later on…..



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