Window Seat | Mrinal Chatterjee | 23.6.19

Air Pollution

Let me begin with some figures. Air pollution in India is estimated to kill 1.5 million people every year. It is the fifth largest killer in India, after heart diseases, diarrhoes, road injuries and self-harm. India tops world in bad air quality: According to WHO global air pollution database, India has14 out of 15 most polluted cities worldwide. The air quality in Delhi, the capital of India, according to a WHO survey of 1600 world cities, is the worst of any major city in the world.

Air Pollution is no longer a problem with large cities. Smaller cities have also been facing this problem- mostly in North India. But Eastern India has also started facing this problem.

For example, Cuttack, the millennium city flanked by two big rivers Mahanadi and Kathajodi-  is one of the six cities in Odisha who are among the 102 cities of the country that have failed to maintain the national ambient air quality standards fixed by the Central Pollution Control Board.

Along with the Chowdwar- Jagatpur industrial belt in its periphery, the oldest city of Odisha is also one the cities facing highest vehicular air pollution. University of Chicago’s Air Quality Life Index suggests that residents in Cuttack could live 2.7 years longer if the Cuttack had met WHO air quality standards.

But do we care? We don’t. But we have to. Consider this: Long-term health effects from air pollution include heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory diseases such as emphysema. Air pollution can also cause long-term damage to people’s nerves, brain, kidneys, liver, and other organs. Some scientists suspect air pollutants cause birth defects.

We have to take care and take action- at Policy, societal and individual level.

At individual level we have to conserve energy – at home, at work, everywhere. We have to use public transportation, cycle, or walk whenever possible. Use carpool instead of individual use. Use environmentally safe paints and cleaning products whenever possible. Look for the ENERGY STAR label when buying home or office equipment. Compost leaves and yard waste. Use gas/solar cooker instead of wood for cooking purpose

At societal level, we need to take steps to reduce open burning of garbage, farm refuse, even dead bodies at the crematorium. Encourage walking and/or cycling instead of using bike/car. Raise awareness about air pollution. Lobby for reduction of air pollution at policy level

At the policy level, prioritize anti-pollution measures at policy level and on field. Make adequate legislation and implement strictly. Make a vigilance mechanism by empowering Pollution Control Boards. Spread awareness

Indoor Plants

Indoor plants, many scientists say, can purify air. There are some specific plants, which can clean the ambient air. Therefore, they advise to keep those plants inside the house and take good care of them.

I saw a wall of green plants inside Guwahati Airport building. It looks good and keeps the temperature down- considerably lowering the cost of air-conditioning. This could be installed in other airports and lobbies of large buildings.

Many space-challenged cities have started to build Vertical Gardens along high rise buildings, bridges, etc. This is being tried at several places in Delhi. Other cities should also try doing this.

Jhelum Fables

Dr Tabeenah Anjum Qureshi, a National award winning photographer and journalist of Kashmiri origin presently working in Rajasthan with an English daily is like a younger sister to me. Recently she curated and conducted a five day visual storytelling workshop titled ‘Jhelum fables’ on a houseboat on Jhelum River in Srinagar. This unique workshop which combined the art and craft of photography and storytelling was an ode to the river Jhelum presented by the participants through 50 photographs and as many stories.

The visual stories conceived by each storyteller were an Ode to the river Jhelum, also known as Vyeth in Kashmiri and Vitasta in Sanskrit. “As the soul of the workshop was imaginations, the participants practiced this art through their writings and photography. The ripples in the muddy waters, windswept verandahs, hide and seek of mellow Sun, flutter of the evening birds, roving shikaras, conversations from the nearby houseboats, knuckles in the wood flooring, footsteps of the walkers on the footbridge, the sound of distant bells of Shankracharya temple and echoes of namaz were the sounds heard and unheard by the budding visual storytellers who later translated them into visuals and stories explaining Jhelum who taught us an art of resilience”, said  Tabeenah.

“Besides writing and photography the objective of the workshop was to build the conversations among the participants. The youth in Kashmir lack access and opportunities to art and culture in some sense. Our aim was to establish one such space. This is just the beginning, we aim to conduct many such programs”, said Mahi Burza a passionate teacher and founder of Roots, which organized this workshop.

This kind of workshop could be and should be organized more often and in more places.

Tail piece: Types of Vegetarians

My friend Nagaghana said, India is the only country in the world which has eight types of vegetarians.

I asked how? He answered,

  1. Pure Vegetarian. They do not take onion, garlic; some even do not take anything that grows under the soil. Some do not take milk.
  2. Eat eggs but do not eat chicken or any meat.
  3. Eat cake with egg-white, but do not eat omelet or chicken.
  4. Eat gravy but not chicken or meat pieces.
  5. Eat outside but not at home.
  6. Eat when drinking otherwise not.
  7. Eat when somebody coaxes and forces, otherwise not
  8. Eat only on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. On other days of the week- never.

Tailpiece: Legal Question

A drunk man asks a lawyer, “If I buy a bottle from a Govt. approved shop and my wife tries to stop me from drinking, is it possible to send her to prison for “obstructing Govt. approved activity ?”

The lawyer is still searching for an answer.


The author, a journalist turned media academician lives in Central Odisha town of Dhenkanal. An anthology of his weekly column Window Seat, published in 2018 has been published as a book. Write to him to get a free e-copy.



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