On the December 21, 2016, the Delhi High Court observed that air pollution in the national capital was of an ‘emergency nature,’ referring to the record high levels of Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5 and 10 in the air. Ranking as the most polluted city in the world with a pollution level of 153 compared to the WHO’s safe-marked level 25, Delhi’s situation is dire to say the least. Springing to contingency plans and curative measures, the government has begun implementing a series of environmental policies, with the most popular being the recent odd-even car one.
While air clean-up initiatives on behalf of the pollution control board and the capital’s government are crucial, citizen steps need to go hand-in-hand with these. Individual efforts to help raise awareness about the severity of this situation along with the irreversible health consequences is the need of the hour, especially with the government tip-toeing around the public, trying not to ‘create a panic’. The residents of Delhi need a wake up call to mobilise against rising pollution levels, and we’ve identified individuals whose efforts in this arena are commendable. From health safety products to spreading of environmental information, these six citizens of Delhi have taken it upon themselves to join the fight for clean air, and they are doing it in so many different ways.
Scroll on for a glimpse into the lives and minds of six pollution crusaders from the capital.
I. Jai Dhar Gupta, creator of Nirvana Being—consumer product solutions to protect against rising air pollution.
“India is off the charts in terms of pollution, and there is no environment consciousness. The level of apathy is shocking, as people are just okay with living in dirt and suffering because of it.”
In November of 2013, while he was training for a long distance race in Delhi, Gupta began to wheeze. As he didn’t think much of it, he simply took a break for a few days, but the wheezing got much worse, and, as he shares, “I went from feeling like a superhero to feeling terminal,” he shares. In October of 2014, during a camping trip in the Aravallis, he encountered a woman wearing a face-mask. Intrigued, he engaged her to find out the reason behind it, and discovered things like Particulate Matter 2.5 and N99 face masks. Soon enough, he dedicated himself to the environment in every way he possibly could.
“If I can’t use it for my children, I can’t sell it.”
As an initiative started by Jai Dhar Gupta, Nirvana Being brings a host of top-quality, high-performance products to the Indian market that are dedicated to health, and safeguarding the human body against contaminants. His venture was established after Gupta visited Beijing and Shanghai to experience China’s learning curve in the field. Starting with bringing a range of high performing facemasks known as Vogmasks to India, Gupta has accomplished several product milestones. Passionately condemning the wasteful use of plastic bottles along with apathy for waste production and disposal, his Water Bobble purifies regular tap water to make it potable, eliminating the need for single-serve bottles.
Recognising that lack of awareness regarding the severity of the issue could be one of the reasons for this wide-spread apathy, Gupta has advised the Delhi government to issue health advisories to the public. He believes that all government initiatives need citizen-backing to be enforced, and that will only happen if the residents of Delhi understand their environmental reality. As a part of Delhi’s home and health ministries’ think-tank, and an advisor to the similar Mumbai-based think-tank Pollution Smokers, his expertise is utilized in information sharing.
II. Mrutyunjay Mishra of the Juxt Smart Mandate (JSM) working towards open source environment data.
“Everyone talks about smart cities, but how will that happen if you don’t even have good air to breathe?”
Having grown up in a small town in Orissa, a place where the air was significantly cleaner than Delhi-where he moved in 1998-Mishra has always been concerned with the rising air pollution problem in the capital. Adding to that, having an ecology and environmental science professor as a father made him all the more inclined to this cause. “For me personally, I’m interested in three of this country’s biggest problems--learning over education, sustainable livelihood and health.” Identifying these are a few of the larger issues plaguing India, Mishra aims to dedicate himself towards working in each sector for improvement and relief.
“If a lot of relevant data goes public, we believe it can make a significant change.”
As the co-founder of JSM, Mishra’s business deals with data-driven analytics, and his heart deals with using the same for a good cause. Working on a project in Delhi, which aims to be made all-India soon, Mishra aspires to collect information regarding the real-time status of the environment, and make it available to all. This citizen initiative aiming towards open-source environmental information can go a long way in spreading awareness, as well as helping people understand the gravity and severity of the pollution crisis today.
“Everyone talks about smart cities, but how will that happen if you don’t even have good air to breathe? We need to take care of the environment we live in first, and we as individual citizens need to work on it,” shares Mishra passionately. Working with a team of engineers, designers and more across India, his upcoming project will hopefully provide the entire country with open data regarding the environment’s real-time situation.
III. Namit Arora, leader of the think-tank task force on air pollution at the Delhi Dialogue Commission.
“You’re not supposed to be able to taste the air you breathe in.”
The cause of pollution is one that has always been close to his heart, as Arora elaborates, “That’s something that has been bothering me for a long time. My father has had respiratory problems for years, and as I started connecting the dots it became clear that air pollution played a significant role.” Having moved from California to the smog-filled, contaminated air of India’s capital city, the experience of stepping out of the airport to inhale a cloud of dust and pollution was one that further troubled Arora, pushing him towards his cause.
“Privileged people live with air purifiers in air-conditioned neighbourhoods, and they are the least affected section of society. Those who live and work close to roads are in real need of protection, and they aren’t even aware of the severe dangers of air pollution.”
The capital city’s Delhi Dialogue Commission (DDC) acts as an advisory body to the government, making recommendations in various different areas. Heading the task force specific to air pollution, Mr. Namit Arora explains, “We look at specific problems within polluted areas as well as study how other cities in India and abroad deal with their pollution problems. After studying the models of Beijing, Mexico City and so on, we analyse what works and what doesn’t.” Recognising the wealth gap that ends up being a health gap, they propose solutions that would work for everyone, and are applicable to Delhi specifically.
Additionally, the environment has another area that owes thanks to Arora’s work. Leading the DDC task force on solar energy in Delhi, along with other dedicated members of this think-tank, he drafted a Solar Energy Policy in September which proposes a 1000 MW solar power capacity in the next five years. And adding yet another environmentally-conscious achievement to Arora’s pile of hard work for this cause, he also donates his knowledge and time towards spreading health-advisory awareness through various campaigns and other information-spreading initiatives.
IV. Reecha Upadhyay, co-founder of Pollution Solution working towards a more sustainable city.
“Living in one of the world’s most polluted cities, there is a responsibility on each of us to do our part.”
As Upadhyay sees it, while the government has to do its part, there is a need to raise awareness and move each citizen in Delhi to realize that their individual actions impact the environment for everybody. “I was motivated to create a moment where people have the right information and take the right action to work towards solutions,” she adds.
“I think people are interested and the conversations are amplifying, but we need to do more. I think people are looking for solutions and while the Delhi government has been very proactive, we need more community based solutions.”
Along with a group of individuals and organisations, Upadhyay created a coalition known as Pollution Solution to take collective anti-pollution action by pressuring the government, as well as by disseminating information so that everyone plays an active role to move Delhi towards a greener, cleaner, and more sustainable city.
V. Akshat Ghiya & Aamir Jariwala, co-founders of the e-waste management company Karma Recycling.
“Electronic waste is one of the fastest growing strings of waste in the world. A lot of electronics are piling up in the city.”
With consumerism in the digital world growing exponentially, the e-waste generated in urban spaces is dangerous if not disposed correctly. The unorganised sector that collects and disposes such waste, that is kabadiwalas, burn the electronics in open air to separate the metal from the plastic, so they can sell off the viable parts as scrap material. In turn, they release toxic fumes into the air and into the ground, cause both ground water and air pollution.
“We wanted to start a sustainable company and do some good as well as create a good business.” Karma Recycling, founded by Akshat Ghiya and Aamir Jariwala, is a government-authorised company present in 25 cities across the country that collects and safely disposes e-waste in a carbon-free, non-polluting way. “We specialize in disposing smart phones, tablets and laptops. By creating channels through which we collect this e-waste, we bring it to our facility in Delhi or the smaller facility in Bangalore, and wipe the data, check the electronics to see if we can repair or refurbish them so they don’t end up as waste. If not, we break them down in a safe manner,” Ghiya shares.
“Even in schools, recycling isn’t taught properly. I grew up in Europe where we were taught it when we were eight years old. Education and awareness are the two key drivers of change.”
While the government has put laws into place regarding pushing the flow of e-waste to authorised, safe companies to dispose it, kabadiwalas still receive 90 percent of e-waste generated, solely because these laws aren’t implemented. As Ghiya sees it, awareness about the need to redirect e-waste to companies like his is crucial, and should be done in every way possible so that the massive amounts of e-waste produced by this consumerist generation is managed safely, reducing the air and water pollution caused in urban spaces. And surely enough, Karma Recycling has contributed to 11,00,000 kgs of CO2 E-savings till date.
VI. #HelpDelhiBreathe with Jai Dhar Gupta, Namit Arora & Reecha Upadhyay
“It started with me thinking that we needed a public mobilisation where people feel like they are part of a larger movement,” Ms. Upadhyay shares regarding the inception of their Help Delhi Breathe anti-pollution march on January 17 in Delhi.
In order to #HelpDelhiBreathe, these three crusaders have collaborated with various citizens of Delhi to organize a demonstration showcasing that the capital is ready for change. Kicking off this march on January 17 at Connaught Place will be a set of Delhi’s leading musicians with a live performance, followed by a large, open dialogue on the city’s pollution problem. With thought leaders and eminent speakers such as Mr. Harish Salve, Ms. Sunita Narain and more carrying forward the conversation, the Help Delhi Breathe march aims to educate people on the importance of immediate anti-pollution initiatives and the urgency of the situation. The objective of this march is to motivate citizens to enforce clean air measures and #HelpDelhiBreathe through community efforts.