Dr. Shashi Tharoor
Summary of the First Roundtable Consultation
Agenda of the Consultation:
Key Discussion Points:
The participants had a variety of views with respect to the level of awareness among citizens about the actual impact of deteriorating air quality on their health. The issue was raised by a few members that unlike other hazards such as smoking, the relation between air quality and public health is yet to be well established and consequently become a mass concern
This is partly due to the fact that there have been no public awareness campaigns or existing audio visual aids (such as the statutory warning on cigarette packets, or the ‘Shanghai Girl’), when in reality the effects of poor air quality have an equally debilitating effect. This has in turn resulted in episodic focus on the issue, like the case of media attention for poor air quality in Delhi only during the winter months, and even this discussion remains confined to urban centres.
The role of technical experts, such as the World Bank is important here, as these organisations bring in crucial technical expertise that current interventions are lacking which would also translate into critical information dissemination for the public. The Health Community also has a crucial role to play in transferring this knowledge to people, to ensure that people understand the cause of pulmonary diseases.
Participants agreed that the laws and the policies in place were not sufficient to deal with the evolved nature of the issue. The legislations were considered toothless by some, and there was agreement that policies have not translated into the necessary impact. The lack of budgetary allocations to governmental agencies tasked with addressing this issue was a significant concern raised by members. Therefore, the strategy consequently developed must take into account the financial infrastructure required for such a widespread crisis. It was also mentioned that there exists a serious lack of coordination among different departments under the government, and it was thus essential to have a nodal agency for Clean Air, to coordinate the government’s efforts. A participant also highlighted the significance of the recent shift in the approach to the problem of Air Pollution- from only the MoEFCC being involved as an environmental hazard, to the Health Ministry taking it up as a health concern.
All members agreed that there is a need for a sustained mass intervention which only the government is in a position to do. The principal goal is the urgent need for a behavioral shift in the understanding that ordinary people have with regard to air quality. There is also an urgent need to review the existing infrastructure and official plans to address the escalating crisis.
It was agreed that there is an urgent need to develop an inter-connected dialogue between concerned stakeholders, Non-Governmental Organisations, members from the industry and members from the government, given the magnitude and the complexities of the issue and the corresponding multi-level interventions required. It was stressed that any intervention including awareness campaigns must design an up-stream dialogue, given that informing the ordinary citizen will form the foundations for public support for such interventions
There was also a discussion on developing an alliance of NGO’s working in this field and the need to promote collaboration and cooperation between these bodies in order to develop a sustained far reaching campaign to address this issue.