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Let me live: Gurugram’s message to govt

November 18, 2019 06:18 AM


Let me live: Gurugram’s message to govt
war on pollution Over a thousand gather at Leisure Valley Ground, demand right to breathe clean air, protest govt ‘apathy’




Sadia Akhtar

Gurugram : Armed with placards, banners, and anti-pollution masks, more than a thousand people assembled at the Leisure Valley Ground in Sector 29 on Sunday morning to voice their concerns about deteriorating air quality. Amid chants of “mujhe jeene do (let me live)”, children, parents, corporate workers, doctors, activists, and senior citizens highlighted the adverse impact of pollution and sought concrete action from the government to curb pollution in the city.

Calling the protest a movement of the civil society, citizens said that pollution could no longer be ignored, more so since the government was not doing enough. “The Air Quality Index (AQI) value of the city remains high throughout the year. Yet, no concrete steps are taken to tackle pollution. We are facing a health emergency, but the government seems unmoved since we are not seen as vote banks,” Ruchika Sethi, founder of an environment and sustainability advocacy group, said.

Sethi said that a permanent commitment to control air pollution was needed and only citizens could exert pressure on the government to act. Expressing their commitment towards tackling the pollution crisis, the protesters took a pledge against the burning of waste and promised to plant more trees. “sarkar zimmedari lo, mujhe jeene do (government, take responsibility, let me live),” they chanted, while exhorting the government to take steps.

Dissatisfaction and anger

Between 10.30am and 1pm, more people marched in. From street vendors to corporate workers, to children from government and private schools, the protest saw the participation of people from diverse sections of the society. Anger, frustration, and dissatisfaction with the government, however, were palpable.

Roopali Aggarwal, 41, who came to the protest with her 13-year-old son Amish Gupta, said that residents were being forced to give an additional ‘lung tax’. “Our lungs are choked, the additional cost we pay for living in Delhi-NCR,” Aggarwal said, adding that the government was doing nothing to curb pollution and taking the easy way out by blaming stubble burning. “Stubble burning is only part of the problem. What have they done about waste to energy plants or industries?” Aggarwal said, adding that her family was contemplating moving out of the city. Her son said that his asthmatic friend was compelled to use nebulisers post-Diwali.

Health emergency

Dressed in a protective suit from head to toe, with an anti-pollution mask covering his mouth, Bhawani Shankar Tripathy, a resident of Sector 23 A, walked around trying to highlight the magnitude of the health emergency that the city was facing. “I was wearing a protective suit worn by medical professionals during high-level health emergencies. This is no ordinary smog,” Tripathy said. While Tripathy wore the suit to make a point, there were many others sporting similar surgical masks on account of health issues. Vaibhav Kumar, a Class 10 student, said that while he could change the filters of his mask every two months, he couldn’t do anything about his lungs. “I have sinusitis and cannot afford to get by without a mask. There are so many like me who are suffering but the government doesn’t see pollution as an election issue, hence the lax response,” Kumar said.

He and other school children at the protest also highlighted how they had been compelled to miss the Children’s Day celebration this year. Schools were asked to shut down on account of air pollution for the second time this month on November 14. Earlier this month, schools were asked to shut down on November 4 and 5 due to intense smog.

Fallout on businesses/corporates

Many people from the corporate world also attended the protest. “Corporates will shut down if the situation persists. People in any part of the world would be out on the streets if the pollution crisis was this bad,” Deep Kalra, CEO of Makemytrip, said.

His views were echoed by Neeraj Chhibba, vice-president of Naggaro, who said that international clients were cancelling visits to the city. Chhibba said half-measures to tackle pollution wouldn’t work. “The AQI values, throughout the year, continue to be 3-4 times higher than safety limits, and the crisis is not being dealt in the way it should,” Chhibba said.

Highlighting the far-reaching impact of pollution, another corporate professional at the protest said that pollution was a big business risk, and the world was keeping a track of the pollution crisis in Delhi-NCR. “The first question that our clients ask pertains to pollution in Delhi-NCR,” she said.

Government apathy

Archana Pandey, 45, shared carrots and jalebis with protesters as she went around holding a placard that read, “gajar nahi, solution chahiye (we need solutions, not carrots).” The statement was a veiled dig at Union Minister for Health Harsh Vardhan, who advised people to eat carrots to combat pollution-related illnesses earlier this month. Pandey also took a swipe at Delhi MP Gautam Gambhir who recently skipped a parliamentary panel meeting to discuss the air pollution crisis in Delhi-NCR. “Elected representatives are busy enjoying jalebis at a time when they should be taking part in crucial meetings. How can one combat AQI levels this high with carrots?” Pandey said.

Bhawani Shankar Tripathy, another protester, said that while Sunday’s gathering had been successful in bringing together citizens to raise their voice against an issue that touched everyone’s lives, the government had been missing in action. “The only people who seemed to be missing were from the government. We were expecting that government representatives would turn up and assuage our fears,” he said.

When questioned about the protest, Kuldeep Singh, regional officer, Haryana Pollution Control Board, said, “This year, we have sought feedback from concerned citizens and incorporated some of their inputs in tackling pollution. The pollution control board along with the district administration has done around 1,500 inspections and imposed fines worth crores on both private and government agencies. We have also created pollution hotspots.” Singh said that the administration would work in tandem with residents to tackle pollution. Amit Khatri, deputy commissioner and commissioner, Municipal Corporation of Gurugram, did not comment despite repeated attempts.

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