Tackling Pollution – Mexican Ambassador Way

Power means responsibility. The Mexican Ambassador to India Melba Pria exemplifies being responsible to the hilt. Can Indian lawmakers follow suit?

BY DANFES

We have heard about “With great power comes great responsibility.” In the world that we live in, we need people in positions of power to contribute significantly to the growing challenges to a peaceful, healthy & progressive humanity. The challenges come in the form of terrorism, climate change, ecological imbalances, loss of jobs & opportunities & also the tendency of a few powerful nations to bully the less privileged or less powerful ones. The nauseating culture of “Might is Right” must give way to a more inclusive, cleaner & efficient world that is bound together by a common cause of ensuring a fair & clean environment to its citizens, devoid of pollution, mal-intent, corruption & conspiracy. We are delighted to introduce one such champion of humanity who doubles up as the Mexican Ambassador to India. She is Ms. Meblapria, the effusively elegant, cheerful looking woman ambassador who has set a tough example for others to emulate.

Astonishingly, she travels by the meek & mild Auto Rickshaw or a three wheeler for all her official & personal engagements, ever since she took office as the Ambassador of Mexico to India. She is the only diplomat or an official holding such high office to have adopted this novel way of registering her concern for the environment &expressing her willingness to contribute in her own way towards educating people on the potential threat posed by the increasing pollution levels in Delhi in particular & India in general. It was shocking to know though that she wasn’t allowed to take her favored Ride inside the India habitat centerrecently where she was to speak, paradoxically at an event on public transport.
That sort of typifies the nonchalance of the authorities to the rising pollution in city & their hiding behind the rule book, without application of mind to the dreaded issue.

You can imagine the negative impact such apathy & lack of responsible behavior towards our citizenry would have in the longer run. Far from adopting or replicating such an idea, Indian officials could barely be seen demonstrating collective will & invoking their conscience to stem the rot caused by rising pollution. It appears that we would not be seeing any charity beginning here or for that matter lawmakers & people in positions of power in the governmentusing public transport or less polluting vehicles to their offices. In India power means Luxury sedans & SUVs with a posse of black cat commandos & an ostentatious exhibition of wealth, clout & supremacy. Austerity & cutting down on extravagant expenditure does not belong to the Indian style & political culture. That would be the end of politicking in India &also dis-incentivizing the scope for people to join politics or bureaucracy. Being seen & wielding power without necessarily being responsible is more Indian that being its opposite in any which way.

We are told that The Pope uses re-modeled sedans when he travels outdoors. His diplomats in India may soon move around town in a vehicle that uses one wheel less than the pontiff’s cars, an auto-rickshaw.A decision by Mexico’s ambassador to India to use a three-wheeler for official transport has stirred an unusual wave in the foreign diplomatic corps based here.The Vatican’s mission here, known as the Apostolic Nunciature, has decided to buy the ubiquitous Indian urban public transport vehicle. At least three other foreign missions in New Delhi, including those of the US and two European countries, are discussing the possibility of nailing their diplomatic number plates to three-wheelers.

Well, we can imagine the challenges the shift will also bring along; from security concerns to protocol problems and from the heat and dust of New Delhi to the monsoon.But at a time of rare global consensus on aggressively tackling carbon emissions, the use of the CNG-powered vehicle, which consumes on average a tenth of the fuel a limousine does, has fuelled an unlikely debate in the international diplomatic community here.Nor was pollution control her only priority when she first asked her soft-spoken chauffeur to diversify his skills and learn to drive an auto-rickshaw in addition to the limousine.Pria wanted to market her country effectively.”I was looking for the best way to market my country, in a way that fits with India,” Pria said. “And the auto-rickshaw is so… so Indian.”Today, passers-by want to pose with her auto-rickshaw, retrofitted with seat belts by the envoy.But it’s not only on the streets that her vehicle is noticed.

India’s notoriously strict protocol norms aren’t easy to bypass, either.For instance, auto-rickshaws aren’t allowed into the Parliament complex, which foreign diplomats at times need to visit to meet senior government officials and ministers. The Prime Minister’s residence also lacks a protocol for security clearances for auto-rickshaws – they simply aren’t allowed inside the complex.No one in the Indian government had objected to her choice of official vehicle, she said, even when it stood out starkly.

“Public transport is really the only answer for big cities like the ones we have in our two countries,” Pria said. “That’s what has helped us bring down pollution.”Western diplomats here have long complained about New Delhi’s air pollution, especially during the winter. When the Delhi government announced its “odd-even” vehicle rationing project, the US embassy voluntarily decided to enforce the policy though foreign missions here were exempt.For at least two of the missions discussing the auto-rickshaw shift, using a three-wheeler would also be aimed at highlighting the need for public transport in big cities, diplomats aware of the planning said.

“Before becoming an Ambassador, I had travelled in India and I had always travelled in an auto rickshaw. So I thought, why not? Millions of Indians use an auto rickshaw, why wouldn’t an ambassador use an auto rickshaw?” says Ambassador Pria.
“And for a city like this, why not use it?” she says, referring to Delhi’s alarming pollution levels.The auto will not only help reduce emissions but, in using it, Ambassador Pria is also doing her bit for the environment. “This is the way that I want to contribute to the city that today is also mine. I am also a Delhite.”But it wasn’t all smooth-sailing.

As the Ambassador told DANFES, “It wasn’t easy to buy an auto. We had to get permission from the Ministry of External Affairs.”It also took a bit of work to get the drivers on-board: “When you are the driver of the ambassador, there is a certain status in it. So how do you go from being the driver of an ambassador to being an auto rickshaw driver? What I tried to tell them is, you are still the driver to an ambassador, but the ambassador chooses to have a different vehicle.”
Perhaps the defining statement was made by Jagadish Duggal, driver at the Mexican who said:“If the Mexican Ambassador can travel in an auto rickshaw, why can’t India’s elite?”