Concerned citizens and civil society organisations across India have joined hands to demand that all urban local bodies (ULB) mandatorily issue timely health advisories publicly, to alert citizens on ‘bad air’ days, which will help save vulnerable groups from severe health impacts of air pollution.
Bad air days are when the air quality index (AQI) — the pollutant measuring indicator — rises beyond the safe limit for any location falling either under the poor, very poor or hazardous AQI levels.
Convenor of Clean Air Collective — a national collaborative network of organisations, individuals, institutions working towards the common objective of clean air, Brikesh Singh, said this citizen-led campaign is being carried out across 132 non-attainment/ million-plus cities via an online petition. Non-attainment cities are those that do not meet the prescribed air quality standards set by the Union Environment Ministry.
The online campaign was initiated on Tuesday, the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies.
Using this online petition, citizens will be seeking proper implementation of the Clean Air Action Plan for their cities and as part of this campaign, citizen groups across all non-attainment cities in India are being encouraged to also meet or write to their respective Municipal Commissioners demanding health advisory when air quality deteriorates. Already over 20 organisations across states like Delhi, Punjab, Jharkhand, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, and others have not only actively supported this campaign but are also taking it to more citizen groups, a release from the organisers said.
Former Additional Director, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Dipankar Saha shared that the AQI was created for public awareness and more understanding will lead to more concern among people and finally more reduction in a health risk.
According to Saha, ULBs must mandatorily issue health warnings and it should be done locally as far as possible to reach out to maximum people. The National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) has its focus right at the ULB level.
Speaking about the crucial role of the medical practitioners, Managing Trustee, Lung Care Foundation, Dr Arvind Kumar, who is also the Chest Surgeon, Institute of Chest Surgery, The Medicity, said, “Doctors can play a very important role in issuing health advisories through various media like TV, radio, social media, etc. While health advisories can become an important public health tool to prevent the damage caused due to exposure to high air pollution levels, they also have the scope to encourage people to engage in outdoor activities during the cleaner days thus, helping people understand the relevance of clean air.”
As per Professor S.N. Tripathi from the civil engineering department, IIT Kanpur, who is the steering committee member of the NCAP, the role of ULBs is extremely important across all 132 non-attainment cities as it gives them the impetus to enhance and expand monitoring networks, creates a data and dissemination mechanism (website, local media and radio), and thirdly manage the city properly (better traffic and waste management).
As of now, there are 280 continuous AQ monitoring stations in India, which is a 50 per cent increase from 2019 and as per reports if the NCAP manages to achieve its objective of cutting particulate emissions by 30 per cent by 2024, it can increase an average citizen’s life by several years.
Stating that the Covi-19 pandemic had forced us all to seek out as much information as possible to safeguard our health and of our loved ones against the virus, Divya Narayanan, Campaigns Director for Jhatkaa.org, which has created the portal platform for the citizen’s campaign against air pollution, said, “In the same manner, we must realize that we need to demand more information to be made widely available about the air we breathe.”
The petition portal’s address is blueskies.jhatkaa.org