“I once thought the environment was boring. In primary school, I would be found absentmindedly doodling or scarcely paying attention during environmental awareness classes. This is the story of my growth from being the stereotypical bored, ignorant, environmental averse child to being the founder and coordinator of an environmental campaign.
In Grade 7, I was diagnosed with a type of bronchitis. While it isn’t life threatening, every year I’ve had to use nebulisers between October-January because my airways get choked up. I joined the Environmental Initiative Club, and rose through the ranks and became an active voice, participating in intra- and interschool activities and projects; in high school, I was elected to the Student Council to lead Environmental Initiatives in my school.
Working on audits with the Centre for Science and Environment India, I learnt how I could make my school campus more environment friendly and sustainable. After four years of persuasion by students, my school decided to install solar panels in almost all corners of the campus.
I’ve attended several conferences on climate change as a panelist. In 2016, I was a ‘Care for Air’ Student Ambassador training to spread awareness regarding air pollution and affect change.
In 2018, World Environment Day was hosted by India, and I participated in a 3-day long conference of the United Nations Environment Programme where I also appeared on a panel with the then-UNEP Director, Erik Solheim.
I have also worked with the World Wildlife Foundation, Kids for Tigers and Sanctuary Asia on wildlife conservation, and was awarded the prestigious Token of Appreciation by the National Tiger Conservation Authority of India.
My project, ‘Swachh Chetna’ – a collaboration between the Delhi Metro Railway Corporation and public, private and NGO schools – was focused around cleanliness, plantation and awareness drives. Leading over 300 volunteers in over 3 years, we cleaned areas around metro stations across the city and carried out awareness campaigns through street plays and flash mobs. We planted over 200 saplings at Metro officers’ residential colonies and outside metro stations in a bid towards mitigating air pollution.
To establish a multi-entity cooperation between a State-Central shared Government organisation like the Delhi Metro and to sign a Memorandum of Association with various schools is particularly challenging, especially for a 17-year-old.
There was a marked dip in my grades at one point. It was my class teacher in Grade 10, who taught me how to manage my time and made me understand that no matter how passionate you may be about a cause; it can’t come at the cost of academics.
Environmental activities weren’t particularly helpful for my social life either. For many years I heard comments like, “there goes Bhalla to straighten every blade of grass in the football field”. If anything, it only strengthened my resolve to make my mark in the world of environmental conservation.
Today a lot has changed, but there’s a lot that hasn’t changed. Year after year, I see and participate in similar televised debates regarding air pollution. It’s the same inaction and unfortunately, the same 2 million deaths every year due to the snail slow action on air pollution in India. But, there are many people out there who are working day after day to bring about real change.
My latest project is to carry the Swachh Chetna model forward, and I’ve proposed it to several corporate giants and MNCs, all of which have expressed a keen interest in it. With new research proving that environmental degradation has played a large part in the emergence of the current COVIDcrisis, we must strengthen our determination to carry forward our work.