Online Event Gathers Corporate, Government and Interfaith Leaders with Youth and Civil Society Organisations for Fighting Air Pollution
Deaths from Toxic Air Claim 1.7 Lakh Lives Each Year; Air Pollution 5th Biggest Cause of Death in the Nation.
10 November 2020, Webinar: As news programs continue to offer constant coverage of the ongoing degradation of India’s air – Bharat ranks as the second most-polluted country behind Bangladesh – the Integrated Health & Wellbeing (IHW) Council in collaboration with the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance and Parmarth Niketan brought together some of the Nation’s most-important and -influential industrial, corporate, government and interfaith leaders for a vital discussion about what needs to be done to reduce the causes and affects of air pollution.
This second annual Good Air Summit was organized to bring together responsible government authorities and key stakeholders in a resounding call for action to tackle the frightening situation of pollution, specifically particulate pollution, in India. The gathered leaders discussed sustainable solutions, advocacy and result-oriented actions to ensure better quality of air to help make cities across India breathable and liveable. All of this took place as the air quality in New Delhi, the primary site of this important webinar, was immeasurably toxic – the measuring device could actually not measure the amount of particulates in the air because they were so high.
Creating a clean environment and pollution-free air and water is constitutionally-mandated in India, and the Nation is committed to achieving that goal. The inaugural session included discourses by Hon’ble Union Minister of Environment and Forest Shri Prakash Javadekarji, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, President, Parmarth Niketan, Founder/Chair, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, TERI Director General Shri Ajay Mathur, UNEP’s Valentin Foltescu, UN Environmental Goodwill Ambassador Dia Mirza, AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria and former Supreme Court Justice the Hon’ble Justice Swatanter Kumar – provided an overview of India’s commitments and obligations to environmental conservation and protection and presented the challenges that the country’s initiatives have faced while offering options on the way forward in achieving its goals before 2024.
The second session brought together eminent Faith Leaders including Pujya Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji, Secretary General, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, President, Divine Shakti Foundation, Managing Trustee and Chairman of the Chishty Foundation – Ajmer Sharif Haji Syed Salman Chishty, Renowned Spiritual Guide and Mentor Bhramakumari Sister Shivani and Founding Director Institute of Harmony and Peace Studies Father Dr M D Thomas –to provide inspiration and insight on what individuals and institutions could do to be part of the solution. Since faith plays a very influential role in the personal lives of people, this session was viewed as an essential element to bring about change and to encourage the practice of good deeds and mindful behaviour for the well-being of people and society.
Hon’ble Union Minister Shri Prakash Javadekarji shared in a special recorded message how the Government of India is working on all fronts to mitigate air pollution. Expressing concern over the pollution level in the northern parts of the country especially national capital Delhi, the Minister said that the government is working towards abetment of Air Pollution by working at the source level, be it industries or thermal power stations, vehicular pollution, construction and demolition waste or stubble burning, which are the major courses of pollution generation. He emphasized that whilst life must go on we must also simultaneously find ways to reduce and take care of pollution. He said the government will continue to strive hard to bring to bring an end to the issue of Air pollution and encourages all possible technological interventions in this regard.
Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, Founder/Chair of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance and President of Parmarth Niketan, shared, “Clean Air is not a privilege but a fundamental right and an essential necessity. Today we are racing towards more developed cities but at the expense of our environment and our planet! We need to put the ECO – back in economy and understand that a development that undermines our environment our ecology is not sustainable.”
He added, “We must move from a Green Culture to a Green Culture. We must have a New Culture, established on the mantra of Nature, Culture and Future. For whenever Nature and Culture are protected, our Future is secure. By planting trees, stopping burning of waste, becoming vegetarian – there are so many green, conscious actions that we can take every day to be the solution. We are not the masters of this planet, we are mere custodians. As custodians, we must make the planet better for all living beings – not just human beings, but all beings. Let us work together, walk together and make inclusiveness and togetherness the mantra for the 21st Century.”
Actor and UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador Dia Mirza suggested that “There were many states and governments that refused to acknowledge that the air was polluted. That was a very big problem. But, thanks to the work done by women and children, governments are recognizing that pollution is a problem that is killing and affecting millions of people. Thirteen of the most-polluted cities in the world are in India.”
She added, “What gives me great strength is to see the wisdom of children responding to our problems. They have access to the science, they respond from a place of empathy, and they are coming up with solutions – planting trees, creating waste management systems, questioning policy and holding governments accountable. This is hugely important. This ensures that we move towards a more sustainable system that will clean our environment and bring back the ecological balance that we need to survive. And, that’s what it is – it’s a question of human survival.”
Pujya Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji, Secretary-General of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance and President of the Divine Shakti Foundation, said “We come together today to ask what we can do about air pollution. We have to change our vision of success that says that more, more and more is cheaper, cheaper and cheaper so better, better and better. As faith leaders, it’s imperative that we change that vision of success to being more instead of having more. Do we really need so many things that run on fossil fuels? We know we don’t – Covid has proved that. We know we can live without that level of industry and consumption that we’ve been used to. Can we now herald in a vision of win-win: It’s not us or Mother Earth; us or the air; it’s all of us. That’s a vision that faith leaders need to give. “
BK Sister Shivani, Globally-renowned Spiritual Guide and Mentor, also said that “Let’s start thinking about the resources of nature before we think of all of our desires. It’s our never-ending desires that are exploiting the environment. We must understand and realise that our happiness is not in things, its not in hoarding more and more but our happiness lies in our mindset. Therefore, this Diwali let us light the candle within and change the way we think. Let us take the example of Maa Lakshmi and realise that we must not seek to take more and more but to give more and more. It is in the power of giving that we truly receive”
Haji Syed Salman Chishty, Managing Trustee & Chairman, Chishty Foundation – Ajmer Sharif, said that “It has been bestowed on us to be the caretakers of Creation, and human beings must respect their role in creation and the rights of other creatures. Humans must recognize and accept what Allah has bestowed, including all of the sacred gifts of Creation. We must work in harmony with nature, and not against the natural order. Having healthy air and water is an essential part of our existence.”
Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, AIIMS said that “the cost of health is much more than the revenue that industry makes. But, policy makers don’t understand the gravity of the situation with air pollution. It’s the silent killer. Air pollution contributes much more than the use of tobacco, but we don’t really talk about air pollution the way that we ought to. This needs to change. We need to get together and work together and brainstorm to decide what we can do to make a difference. The future of the next generation is at stake, because the type of air pollution that we’re breathing now is leading to retardation in the growth of the lung, to higher chance of recurring respiratory infection and more severe Covid infections if you live in an area with high levels of air pollution. There’s an urgent need to find sustainable solutions and strategies that will be effective in the long run.”
Dr Ajay Mathur, Director General, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) offered that “we are beginning to see a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel. As a country we have been devastated by the effects of pollution. We have acted on our own, and more importantly we have acted as a Nation. And we are starting to see results. We need to ensure that all parts of the country are engaged in this process, because what affects us locally also affects us across the region and around the world.”
Dr M. D. Thomas, Founder Director, Institute of Harmony and Peace Studies shared, “If we pollute the air, the air will pollute us. So, we must handle the air with care. This isn’t coming easily; just as common sense isn’t common. We must learn to behave in a responsible manner. And, we need a faith that helps us to achieve this. A sense of duty must be awakened. Only spiritual awakening can combat air pollution. We must amend the unclean habits that have become a part of our lives. Because the sacred can only be found in clean places. Only a faith that puts our teachings into practice is truly a faith worth following and propagating.”
Air pollution and its health implications is a global issue – of equal concern to the Covid-19 pandemic and infinitely more long-term and challenging than anything that we heretofore faced. It is the leading and underlying cause of many life-threatening diseases, and reduces the body’s ability to fend-off other illnesses, such as Covid-19. Eliminating it is an important part of the United Nations’ Strategic Development Goals (SDG) 2030, a worldwide healing and empowerment program that India is both committed to and an important source of change, innovation and inspiration. Powerful and influential workshops, such as the Good Air Summit, are primary tools in the effort to implement and achieve these goals.
The Good Air Summit compromised of a morning and afternoon session consisting of several panels that highlighted innovation and technological solutions to air pollution and the evening session brought together student and youth from across Delhi NCR to share through their performances, songs, dances and more how they were being champions of the Good Air Movement and working to allow India to Breathe.