I wonder how many of us in the general public were aware of the recent Clean Air Campaign, launched on 10th February by the Centre and Delhi governments. We do know that a recent article in The Hindu reported that it was so successful, that in fact, Delhi’s air quality apparently significantly improved.
It’s funny, because I always thought that if Delhi’s air quality were to significantly improve, that 1.) we would all notice, with great joy and excitement, and 2.) we would clearly see what led to that very sudden and wonderful onset of clean air. Yet the only thing I noticed during the campaign was that the wind speed picked up for a few days. I remember thinking to myself, “Oh, Holi is around the corner, and the winds are changing.” I didn’t think the air was clean, but it certainly felt slightly better. I knew from my daily AQI checks that the air quality was still unhealthy - and worse - every single day of the campaign. It was therefore quite surprising to read that a 2 week campaign that I knew nothing about was being attributed to 2 days of “Moderate” quality air.
So I decided to dig into some weather data - and guess what I found? That in the few days before the “Moderate” onset AQI, not only had wind speeds indeed increased, but that wind direction had also changed. In fact, that change in air quality had already been predicted by meteorological scientists, days before the campaign started. Some of that severe pollution simply got blown away.
Did the campaign do it? I seriously doubt it.
So what can we actually take away from this recent Clean Air Campaign?
First, a plea to government officials. Please tell us, the public and the actual stakeholders (and sufferers) more in advance that a campaign is going to take place, and tell us what it will specifically comprise. So that we can not only monitor it for its intended effects, but also help support it! Amongst us and our civil society partners, little to nothing was known about what was happening over that fortnight, nor what the goals of the campaign were. We could have, from the outset, done much better, with advance notice and understanding of the campaign’s intent.
Second, it seems that the crux of the campaign was to issue challans to those who were violating existing air pollution regulations. And in fact, thousands and thousands of challans were issued. This is a laudable accomplishment, and we are grateful for this enforcement, and hopeful that it helped raise awareness of the laws among those who violate them. Yet, is this what makes a clean air campaign a true campaign? Surely, we should expect this kind of enforcement all year-round, not just for a fortnight long demonstration.
If anything, it appears that the campaign’s major accomplishment was to show that enforcement teams can in fact do their job - and that they should be encouraged and motivated to continue to do so. But that does not lead to clean air. Stopping the polluting behaviour does. And challans are hardly the cause of clean air.
Third, we would love to hear from people or groups that were truly engaged by the Clean Air Campaign. Let’s say that for lack of time or intention, the general public was not the intended target for this campaign. How about some public testimonials from the clean air teams, themselves? Did they see the importance of what they were doing? Did they learn a lot, to take forward? Positive and accurate reflections from those in the campaign may actually help motivate the public to act for solutions, themselves.
Does the Clean Air Campaign give us hope for better enforcement in the future? If so, how? Answers to questions, like these, communicated in a timely manner, might give us all some hope that these fortnight long efforts are actually leading us somewhere better.
When we hear the words “clean air campaign,” we envision motivated, aware people who are supporting the cause with renewed energy, understanding, and action. But I’m sorry to say that instead, we were unaware of any clean air activities, and instead were subject to a inaccurate, unsubstantiated news article announcing that the campaign helped improve air quality.
Not just as clean air evangelists, but even just as educated and aware civilians, we simply cannot accept misleading statements any longer. In this case, this sort of misinformation undermines our efforts to motivate school children, their families, and others across the public, and undervalues air pollution as a real problem that demands real solutions.
Our plea to the leaders of the Clean Air Campaign: please talk about the Clean Air Campaign for what it really was, and the positive things it did accomplish. But please do not claim that it cleaned up our air because, even for those marginally more pleasant two days, it most certainly did not. It was the wind.
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