Meet the man who quit his corporate job to help address India’s air pollution problem
Mohit Beotra, 51, was working as the Chief Brand Officer at Airtel when he decided that he needed to make a change. After spending two decades in the corporate world, caught in the rigmarole of fixed routines, boardroom meetings, and structured processes, he was keen to help give back and create change. However, he didn’t know how to enter the social sector.
That was when he decided to take up a training programme with the India Leaders for Social Sector (ILSS) in Gurgaon, Haryana.
After Mohit familiarised himself with the policies, players, and participants in the social space during the course of the ILSS programme, he warmed up to the cause of air pollution, especially in all India’s metros.
51-year-old Mohit Beotra
“It all started when I read a story in The Economist a year ago about how countries across the globe were being exposed to polluted air on a daily basis. The feature mentioned that India housed 14 out of the 20 most polluted cities in the world due to factors like increased vehicular emissions, shrinkage of green cover, stubble burning, and poor waste management,” he says.
The article struck a chord in Mohit’s head and he decided that the time to act was now.
“I simply could not remain passive thereafter and set up the Air Pollution Action Group (A-PAG) in Delhi along with Vijay Chadda, the former CEO of Bharti Foundation and Ashish Dhawan, Founder of Chrysalis Capital and Ashoka University,” Mohit tells SocialStory.
Since Mohit’s father was in the Army, his childhood had been spent across the country. He studied at Mayo College, a renowned boarding school in Ajmer, and went on to study at Hindu College, under the University of Delhi. His inclination towards marketing led him to pursue an MBA from IIM- Calcutta in 1988, after which he worked with Lintas and Netdecisions between 1990 and 2001. His tenure at Airtel began right after this period.
In the latter half of 2019, he decided to take the road less travelled and established the Air Pollution Action Group, which focuses on raising awareness about air pollution among citizens and assisting the government with implementing measures to improve the quality of air.
Aashima Arora during a field visit in Punjab.
“Luckily, my friend, Ashish agreed to invest in the activities of the A-PAG. About a month after the foundation’s establishment, three other individuals - Nipun Matreja, Aashima Arora, and Samarth Ayasya decided to quit their corporate careers and join the endeavour,” Mohit recollects.
He then kick-started a social media campaign to create awareness and drive citizen engagement towards air pollution. With his team of five, he created a YouTube channel titled ‘Pollution Ka Kya Plan Hai?’, and began designing content in the form of catchy videos. The videos showcased startling facts about pollution, health risks, and how the situation could be improved.
Working with the government
Most videos were launched during the Lok Sabha Elections in 2019 with an intent to question the government about its efforts to curb pollution. In a few days, many videos on the channel went viral and caught the eye of over six million people.
Political will is critical when it comes to battling air pollution due to the sheer scale of the problem and the need for systematic and long-term intervention. Hence, Mohit spent two months to figure out how A-PAG could collaborate with the government and help them in the process.
Delhi's India Gate covered in a blanket of smog.
“We set up meetings with various stakeholders like the Pollution Control Board, government bodies, civil society, and non-governmental organisations to understand the kind of measures needed to reduce pollutants in the air. After that, my team and I started working with the State governments of Punjab and Delhi,” Mohit says.
The practice of stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana, which involves intentionally setting fire to the straw stubble that remains after harvest, has been cited as a major cause of air pollution in Delhi. Mohit and his team decided to work with government officials in Punjab to resolve it. During the course of the partnership, they realised that farmers were not implementing alternate methods to get rid of crop residue as they were not aware of alternatives.
“Though Happy Seeder machines are easily available in the market and are known to get rid of stubble, the farming community was not familiar with their usage. So, Mohit and his team worked with the Punjab State Farmers Commission to devise certain standard FAQs along with answers about the functioning of the machine and answering them. These videos were later sent to the farmers directly via Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS),” he says.
Mohit plans to continue his efforts to try and solve the crisis of air pollution through A-PAG.
“I have realised that as long as I am doing things to bring about a transformation in the community, I will be satiated. So, my aim is to continue engaging with citizenry and many more state governments to tackle issues surrounding pollution. The results of this endeavour may not show up immediately, but I am hopeful that someday it will count,” Mohit says.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)