Kolkata, Sept 7 (UNI): In a first of its kind campaign, concerned citizens, civil society organisations across Kolkata have joined hands to demand that the 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) — pollutant measuring indicator — rises beyond the safe limit for any location falling either under the poor, very poor or hazardous AQI levels.
The recent Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) released by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) for 2019 revealed that Kolkata has the second highest life expectancy loss, which stood at 7.3 years after Delhi (9.7 years) among the Indian metro cities in 2019.
Kolkata is also one of the seven non-attainment cities in West Bengal. A non-attainment city is one that does not meet the prescribed air quality standards set by the Union environment ministry.
“It’s time that we realise that air pollution is cutting our lives short. It’s time that the health impacts of air pollution become a subject of discussion at our homes, schools and offices. It’s time to create conversations that can create lasting change,” said Ashirbad S. Raha, EPIC India, University of Chicago.
An online campaign has been initiated on September 7- the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies. In its second year since its inception, the theme for 2021 is ‘Healthy Air, Healthy Planet’, which emphasizes the health aspects of air pollution, especially considering the Covid-19 pandemic.
Vinay Jaju, Founder of SwitchOn Foundation and member of West Bengal Clean Air Collective, said, “Using the online petition, citizens will be demanding timely public health advisories be issued widely in the mainstream public domain so that we all can not only protect ourselves but also our loved ones when the air quality in the city deteriorates. The campaign also demands proper implementation of the Clean Air Action Plan across all 7 non-attainment cities.”
To celebrate the occasion, SwitchON Foundation organised a webinar which had speakers from eminent institutions like the University of Chicago, NUJS, IIM Calcutta, XLRI, KIIT, CU, XISS etc. sharing their thoughts on the prominence of youth in mitigating Air Pollution by taking an active role in advocating for Clean Air.
“Clean Air is the birth right of our future progeny as much as it was that of our forefathers,” said Prof Ranjan Mitter of IIM Calcutta.
“Air Pollution — we don’t see it yet; it is there, we don’t feel it, yet we have problems associated with it as a significant human health issue.” said Prof. Dr Nirmal Kanti Chakrabarti, Vice Chancellor of National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS).
He inaugurated the Clean Air Champions Cohort, launched by SwithON Foundation in partnership with WWF, Greenpeace, EDN, etc. The cohort will select youth from West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha who are keen to bring a reformative change in their lives and the environment. They will be trained through workshops and be given the required support in terms of resources and mentorship to take up projects to mitigate air pollution in the three states.
Vinay Jaju added that the citizen’s groups across Kolkata want the government to know that they are aware of the time-bound action points listed under the Clean Air Action Plan.
“As part of this campaign, we are also launching a Clean Air Champions Cohort among the youth of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha. Citizen groups across Kolkata and other cities in West Bengal will also meet their respective Municipal Commissioners and submit a letter stating the demand of health advisory when air quality deteriorates,” said Jaju.
The online petition is also being shared widely on social media and WhatsApp groups and already over 20 organisations across India have actively supported this campaign. Citizen organisations across Kolkata that are supporting and have already signed the petition are also planning to spread awareness across other non-attainment cities of West Bengal.