Summary of the First Roundtable Consultation on Air Quality

Convened by


Dr. Shashi Tharoor

 24.07. 2017


Summary of the First Roundtable Consultation





  • To identify the problem, including deficiencies in our current mechanisms to monitor, assess, and address deteriorating air quality.
  • To take stock of the significant health and economic implications for the country brought about by the state of rapidly deteriorating air quality across India.
  • To construct a time-bound plan to generate public awareness, leveraging the strengths of  participating organisations and individual attendees.
  • To design the principal elements of a National Action Plan on Air Quality, to bring to the attention of the public with a view to persuading the government to act.


Agenda of the Consultation:


  • To broadly define the dimensions of the current air quality crisis that the country is facing and to identify the key challenges that must be addressed in this regard.
  • To identify the principle elements of an action plan to address the issue, leveraging the strength of the diversity of the stakeholders present at the consultation.



Key Discussion Points:


  1. Current situation with respect to awareness


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.


  1. Discussion on existing infrastructure and instruments in place to address the air quality crisis


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.


  1. Role of the Government


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.


  1. Role of the Civil Society


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.


Agreed Actions:


  1. Draft a letter to the Prime Minister drawing his attention to the issue of deteriorating air quality and seeking urgent intervention from the government to address this critical issue including the suggestion of including ‘Clean Air’ as a high priority component under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan. This letter will also include suggestions for an indexed step by step graded response mechanism designed by technical experts and activists to mitigate the crisis.


  1. A media campaign could be undertaken, where celebrities and public individuals as well as the physician community could help disseminate useful information for the public, including data from the technical experts.


  1. Examine existing legal and constitutional provisions concerning the maintenance of clean air in the country and provide suggestions for improvements to the government.


  1. The development of an inventory of audio-visual aids to raise awareness and popularise the need for urgent public support and mobilisation to address this issue.


  1. Creation of a steering committee either in the form of a Board or a Council to coordinate and develop a network of concerned stakeholder and additional NGO’s under an umbrella front so that strategic interventions can be widespread and far-reaching


  1. Members of Parliament may raise the issues through appropriate parliamentary instruments including within the Standing Committee for Environment and Forests.