Five Indian parliamentarians from different political affiliations recently came together on the EPIC India platform to discuss India’s air pollution challenges. Held on 21st January 2022 under EPIC India’s Legislators’ Program series, the roundtable saw participation from Dr. Amar Patnaik (Member of Rajya Sabha), Gaurav Gogoi (Member of Lok Sabha), Priyanka Chaturvedi (Member of Rajya Sabha), Ram Mohan Naidu (Member of Lok Sabha) and Vandana Chavan (Member of Rajya Sabha). Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics at the University of Chicago, and the Director of EPIC, also joined the panel discussion. Chetan Bhattacharji, NDTV 24×7’s senior managing editor, moderated the discussion.

The event started with a welcome address by Sidhartha Vermani, EPIC India’s Executive Director, and Leni Chaudhari, Executive Director of the UChicago Center in Delhi, followed by introductory remarks by Ms. Veena Reddy, USAID’s Mission Director for India. Ms. Reddy referred to air pollution as the “leading environmental health risk globally.”

Prof. Greenstone started the panel discussion by characterizing air pollution as a public health crisis rather than a technical problem. Dr. Patnaik drew attention to the absence of cultural and cognitive support towards air pollution at the grassroots amongst the primary reasons India treats air pollution as a technical issue. Emphasizing the importance of informal institutions for grassroots-level change, he remarked that “policy actions should not rely solely on disincentives but also focus on re-aligning incentives to create awareness.” Ms. Chavan underscored the need to localize the pollution problem to build ownership among the local government bodies. Stressing on enhancing citizen awareness, Mr. Naidu highlighted the importance of designing relevant and regular public communication efforts to create a demand for clean air. Along with the concerted efforts, Ms. Priyanka Chaturvedi noted that a powerful mechanism to instill priority in people’s minds involves “talking about fear while filling people with hope in our collective move towards a greener transition.”

Mr. Gaurav Gogoi emphasized that knowledge exchange among parliamentarians is essential for closer coordination to mitigate cross-boundary pollution. Since parliamentarians closely interact with the community, he added that continuous dialogue could ensure that cross-boundary pollution mitigation strategies do not come at the cost of livelihood. Prof Greenstone suggested choosing market-friendly methods that involve establishing a national cap-and-trade market for large power plants, which can help mitigate steep compliance costs to the industries while reducing pollution. He added that “rather than mandating industries to use particular technologies, cap-and-trade can unleash their innovative capacities to find the cheapest way to reduce pollution.”

The panel discussion concluded with an interactive session between think tanks, civil society organizations, academic institutions, and panelists. Mr. Chetan Bhattacharji summarized the discussion’s key takeaways, including raising grassroots awareness, rephrasing the narrative around air pollution as a public health crisis, and the power of market-based mechanisms for reducing pollution. Marking the roundtable as a forerunner for continued interaction with the parliamentarians, Dr. Anant Sudarshan, South Asia Executive Director, EPIC, concluded the event with closing remarks.

Highlights from the session can be seen here.