Launch of the Breathe Life Campaign

November 10, 2016 @ 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm

V Citizens Action Network (VCAN), jointly with Eureka Forbes and in association with Healthspring, launched the ‘Breathe Life’ campaign against Air Pollution with a panel discussion led by Chief Guest Shri Swadheen Kshatriya, IAS, Chief Secretary of Maharashtra, at 6:00 PM, on Thursday 10th of November, 2016, at The Royal Bombay Yacht Club. The Keynote Speaker was Dr. Ajay Mathur, Director General, TERI, and the other panelists for the evening were Smt. Malini Shankar, IAS, Addl. Chief Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra, Shri Milind Bharambe, IPS, Jt. Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Mumbai, Dr. Sujeet Rajan, Consultant Respiratory Physician, Shri Marzin Shroff, CEO & Snr. Vice President Mktg., Eureka Forbes, and Shri Kaushik Sen, CEO & Co-founder of Healthspring.

Before the event, Officers and Constables from the Traffic Police, were invited to undergo a Pulmonary (Lung) Function Test, conducted by a team of doctors from Healthspring. They were also educated about the health hazards of breathing polluted air, and given tips and guidelines to protect themselves from air pollution.

The event began with Smt. Indrani Malkani, Managing Trustee, VCAN, welcoming the audience and giving a brief introduction of VCAN and the ‘Breathe Life Campaign’. She outlined the post launch activities to be undertaken by the campaign, after speaking about the contest held on social media in order to spread awareness about air pollution. She then requested Shri V. Ranganathan, Trustee, VCAN, and former Chief Secretary of Maharashtra, to introduce the panelists.

After introducing the panelists, Mr. Ranganathan added some of his own suggestions to reduce air pollution, following which he invited Shri Kshatriya to lead the discussion.

An officer of the 1980 batch of the Indian Administrative Service, Shri Swadheen S. Kshatriya, IAS, is currently the Chief Secretary, Government of Maharashtra, and has also held various important assignments such as General Manager, BEST, Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, and Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai.

He began his address by expressing his appreciation towards VCAN, Eureka Forbes, and Healthspring, for launching the campaign. He then drew attention to the current crisis faced by Delhi, describing his personal experience of the city during his last visit, and said that it should be a wakeup call for Mumbai.

He recognized the fact that Mumbai has certain geographical advantages over Delhi but he also warned people not to take them for granted, as Mumbai is one of the 16 cities in India with a high risk of air pollution. Then he began addressing various factors that contribute to pollution, in which he mentioned vehicular gases, road dust, mining, as well as pollution caused during building construction.

He called attention to the issue of the rise in Mumbai’s population density, as well as that of other cities in Maharashtra and predicted that it is going to further increase in the future and it is therefore of immense importance that we find some solution to this problem as a higher population implies an increase in air pollution.

On a positive note, the Chief Secretary said that air pollution can be controlled. He gave some suggestions like planting trees, taking measures to minimize dust in construction areas, among others, and called upon citizens to get involved and help the Government fight against pollution. He was highly confident that with adequate participation from the citizens and proper measures by the Government we can fight and win the battle against air pollution.

The Panelists were then invited to join the discussion, and Smt. Malini Shankar, took the lead by expressing her opinion on the issue. She began with a quote, “There is so much pollution in the air that if it weren’t for our lungs there would be nowhere to keep it.” Adding to the views of Shri Kshatriya regarding Delhi, she said that “the air is so black that one cannot see, and the moment one opens his mouth to speak the taste of charcoal rests on the tongue.”

Comparing the scenario with Mumbai, she judged that the city is not far from facing similar health hazards of air pollution which not only affects the Respiratory system but also causes infertility, diabetes, cancer, and many other diseases.

She reflected on the causes of air pollution mentioned by the Chief Secretary and divided them into mobile sources such as vehicles and point sources such as burning of dry waste, and added that Bakeries also disrupts the quality of air. She said that the mobile sources spread the pollution to as far as 5,000 km. She was deeply affected by casualties of this pollution and mentioned that so far 12,000 deaths have taken place as a result of breathing foul air.

She presented her perspective in fighting air pollution by proper disposal of waste and construction debris. She also said that the older power plants contribute to air pollution and measures should be taken against them. Other methods like scientific waste management, regulating the use of fire crackers, regular testing of transport vehicles, monitoring the quality of air, tree plantation and promotion of public transport were also brought forth by her.

She concluded by recalling a 1952 incident in London when a killer fog claimed 19,000 lives after which the UK Government came up with the ‘Clean Air Act’, and suggested that we too should come up with something similar. To this the Chief Secretary replied that the Maharashtra Government has brought into force a tree plantation programme led by ex-servicemen and has received considerable results. He added that the more we reach out to people the more our chances to fight air pollution increase and stressed on spreading awareness regarding the issue.

The discussion was carried forward by Shri Milind Barambe, IPS, Jt. Commissioner of Police Traffic, who presented the perspective of traffic police officers and talked about the difficulties faced by them due to air pollution. There are certain areas where the air quality index is very poor and these areas become highly dangerous to be in, especially for the Traffic Police officers. To mitigate this, the Police rotates its officers to minimize their exposure but this strategy has its limitations as well.

He brought to the attention of the audience that the number of vehicles registered per day in Mumbai is very high and propagated that a robust public transport system is probably the only solution to address this situation. He also advised the citizens that they should do emission tests for their vehicles regularly.

He expressed his gratitude to VCAN and Healthspring for the PFT test done for the Traffic officers and pointed out that, though the Police Commissioner has standardized health check up for all Traffic officers, the PFT is a welcome step.

Dr. Sujeet Rajan, a consulting respiratory physician, then presented data from his studies on the performance of lungs of an average human being in Mumbai. His presentation showed that the lung function capacity of people living in Mumbai has dropped by 20%. He criticized the carelessness of people and said that we should not take the air we breathe in for granted. According to him the most affected demographic is the one living near busy roads, as they have a high exposure to exhaust gases like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, etc. Furthermore babies, children and teenagers also show adverse effects of air pollution.

Through his study, he showed that burning of a mosquito coil is equal to smoking 50 cigarettes, thus indicating the level of harm that daily use materials could do. He also advised against burning of dhoop sticks and firecrackers. Even local trains were pointed out by him as a source of pollution. He said that the harmful effects of pollution are carried on to future generations and stressed on the urgency to control air pollution.

He then suggested some of the measures every individual can take so as to do his part in reducing the pollution of air, such as choosing back roads, checking Air Quality Index, avoiding exercise in rush hour, planting trees, ban on burning of dry leaves and tyres, drinking plenty of water and including antioxidants in our diet.

The discussion was continued by Shri Marzin Shroff, who got hold of the audience from the very beginning by mentioning that out of the 20 top polluted cities in the world, 13 are in India, and that 14 lakh people die every year due to air pollution. He also said that almost 3% of India’s GDP goes towards rectifying the health issues caused by air pollution. He stressed that breathing is life and what we breathe is so very important to us.

He spoke of the active involvement of Eureka Forbes in fighting air pollution and mentioned that they are a part of the ‘Green Brigade’ brought forward by the Government and they are trying their level best to educate people about this issue.

Shri Kaushik Sen, CEO & Co-founder of Healthspring, was then asked to convey his viewpoint. He began by introducing himself and Healthspring, and said that keeping our community health clean is the primary goal of his institution, and they work very hard towards educating and building a group of first responders. He said that we have individual responsibilities and we should know where we stand. He laid emphasis on the point that respiratory diseases are also as harmful as other disease and we should take as much preventive measures against it as we can.

Shri V. M. Mothghare, Jt. Director (Air), Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), was then requested to join the panelists on the stage and present the measures taken by the MPCB in order to prevent air pollution. He acknowledged the issue of air pollution as being a serious hurdle in achieving better health and being, and said that the board has installed 9 monitoring stations in Mumbai, and is also working towards reducing the biomass residue, industrial effluents and pollution caused by demolition and construction of buildings.

He added that the Air Quality Index, and other data regarding pollution, is made available online for the benefit of the citizens. He concluded by saying that the board is trying its level best to fight pollution and with the help of the citizens will one day succeed in its cause.

The audience was then excited to hear Dr. Ajay Mathur, Director General of TERI make his keynote presentation. The former Director General of the Bureau of Energy Efficiency in the Government of India, he has been a key Indian climate-change negotiator, and was also the Indian spokesperson at the 2015 climate negotiations at Paris. He is also the co-chair of the Energy Transitions Commission which will suggest ways for companies and countries to move towards climate-friendly energy futures.

He began his keynote address by agreeing with the Chief Secretary, that the beneficial geographic advantages of Mumbai have their limits. He said that it is important to know where the pollution is coming from, and congratulated MPCB for putting up all the related data online for the citizens to access.

Addressing the sources of air pollution, he said that the biggest cause is the demolition of buildings, followed by the presence of secondary particulates such as dhoop sticks and dust, in the air. The third major cause is the transport sector, which emits poisonous gases through vehicular exhausts and other emissions. Driving also lifts up dust particles; he related an incident in Delhi when due to the increase of dust particles in the air the Government had taken up the job of washing the streets. The water brought the suspended particles down.

Dr. Mathur was impressed by the installation of air monitoring devices in major centers by MPCB and advised the people not to interfere with the working of these devices. He also spoke about TERI’s efforts, saying that the organization helps the Government to tackle the sources of air pollution.

He was of the opinion that individual actions can help minimize the pollution to a great extent. Careful use of electricity, and investing in public transport, were some of the suggestions given by him to the citizens. He also mentioned that volatile organic compounds and garbage dumps are a great threat, and expressed that we must ensure what goes to the dumps is minimized. Further he added that technology can help recycle waste, and it could be made into a viable business.

He stressed on the recycling of paper, and asked the Government to take over, advising them that while private investors may not find the activity lucrative, the Government could make high quality paper form waste.

He concluded on a positive note saying that the problem of air pollution is not unconquerable and with united efforts from the citizens and the Government, we should be able to get rid of the problem.

Smt. Indrani Malkani then thanked Dr. Mathur for his valuable insights and opened the floor for questions from the audience.

When asked about the damage suffered by the Borivali National Park as a result of underground road construction, Smt. Malini Shankar replied that the Government is trying to manage the harm as much as possible. She said that a country cannot just stop developing and such decisions are to be taken but she ensured that necessary measures are being taken to minimize the harm to the park. A similar reply was given when a woman from the audience expressed her concern saying that post development tree plantation has not taken place. She was given a guarantee that adequate steps are being taken.

On the issue of waste, Smt. Malini Shankar added that electronic waste should be given back to the respective collectors. Smt. Indrani Malkani also expressed her opinion that every Municipal ward should have a designated center for the disposal of e-waste.

A question was raised regarding a disaster management plan for smog to which Smt. Malini Shankar answered that there is no plan as of yet but the authorities will think it over soon.

When asked whether any thinking was given towards urban water transport, Smt. Malini Shankar said that the Government is making a beginning, and coastal as well as inland water shipping is being considered. She also mentioned that the Government is aiming for a balance as it does not want to trigger some other kind of pollution while reducing air pollution.

Due to the paucity of time the audience was assured that the answers to the questions that were not taken up would be forwarded to the authorities and would be replied to via email.

Smt. Indrani Malkani then moved on to declaring the winners of the contest which was held before the campaign. She briefed the audience about the contest saying that the team asked people to send in some of their suggestions to reduce air pollution and out of 12,000 interactions, 5 winners were chosen by the panelists.

In his concluding remarks, Dr. Ajay Mathur said that the action of citizens matter. If the Government is to succeed in reducing pollution, it cannot do so without the necessary support from the citizens. He said that a large number of business models, which could reduce pollution in key industries, were waiting to be put in place, and needed to be encouraged. He also laid emphasis need for Government investment in the Transportation sector.

The event ended with a vote of thanks given by Shri Ranganathan, who appreciated the efforts of all the partners who made the event possible, and concluded with the quote “Be the change you want to see in the world”.


To view Dr. Rajan’s presentation, please click the following link: Presentation of Dr. Sujeet Rajan

To view photos of the event, please click here.

To view the video of the event, please click here.