Air pollution in India
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View from India: Air pollution solutions for every breath you take

Image credit: Dreamstime

World Environment Day (WED), started by the United Nations (UN) in 1974, will be celebrated on 5 June 2019. The annual event centres around an environmental theme: this year, air pollution is the focus and the event will be hosted in China.

World Environment Day 2019 urges governments, industries, communities and individuals to come together to explore renewable energy, green technologies and improve the air quality in cities and regions across the world.

The theme of air pollution is appropriate, going by the alarming statistics which throw light on the air we breathe. Nine out of 10 people in the world breathe polluted air. Annually, seven million premature deaths are caused by air pollution. Globally, we are at the tipping point and something needs to be done.

'Mask Challenge' is the main scheduled event of WED. As part of the initiative, the UN will urge individuals to wear a mask and perform an action that will lower the air pollution locally. Individuals are asked to photograph themselves and post the images on social media. 

Governments can team up with local NGOs and have a clear roadmap and timeline to fulfill their action plan. 

Let’s look at the Indian scenario. As an awareness-building programme, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has launched a campaign titled 'Hawa Aane De'. Thodi hawa aane de, Tazi hawa aane de... and so it goes.

This theme song is a call to action for all people to come together to combat the environmental challenges of our time. It urges each one of us to explore green technologies and measures to improve air quality and make India less polluted.

The song also includes the traffic police who work for long hours in the open and are subjected to air pollution.

The gist of the song conveys the message, “Let air come.” MoEFCC has produced the song in collaboration with Bhamla Foundation in Mumbai.

Prakash Javadekar, Union environment minister, has launched a #SelfieWithSapling campaign. It points to the fact that environmental issues must be a people’s movement. Hence, citizens are urged to plant a sapling and take a selfie, post it on a micro-blogging site with the hashtag #selfiewithsapling and make people conscious of the environment.

Considering India has a population of 1.3 billion people, Narendra Modi in his second term as Prime Minister has a challenging task ahead of him in tackling pollution levels. A move has been made in this direction.

A case in point is plastics, which has an adverse effect on the environment. The Government of India (GoI) has committed to ban all single-use plastics by 2022.

Other measures are part of the agenda. Described as the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), a national level strategy was initiated in January 2019. It’s a five-year plan, whose agenda extends to the Smart Cities vision. NCAP will evolve depending on the environment and sector-based requirements. It’s also planned to increase the number of monitoring stations in the country, including rural monitoring stations. Wherever required, NCAP will provide technology support, capacity building initiatives and certification agencies for monitoring equipment.

NCAP is a much desired move. Across India, the air is polluted with fine particulate matter. Other pollutants include vehicular emission and smoke emitting from factories. Construction activities also add to the smog. Though cities are growth engines, environmental concerns such as toxic haze and agricultural stubble burning need to be monitored. 

Another aspect is the rising aspirational levels of the middle class both in urban India and tier cities. Industries and vehicles will increase to meet their growing demands. Consequently, there have to be long-term measures to curtail air pollution.

Air pollution is one of the deterrents that hinder the health quotient of the country and have a detrimental effect on the economic growth. Hence, it’s essential to create solutions for the rural population. Clean cooking fuel needs to replace firewood and be made affordable for rural India. It would be nice if the Government of India could encourage local gas production in order to cut costs.

One also hopes the pollution levels reduce as the emission norms of vehicles in India will move to a higher level in April 2020. The existing Bharat Stage (BS) IV emission norms will transit to BS VI emission norms, skipping the BS V stage. Just as the auto industry is gearing up for BS VI, we need emission norms for thermal plants as well. It would be a great idea if environmentalists, researchers and scientists could come up with solutions to convert the vehicle carbon and thermal waste into something productive.

We do look forward to new initiatives from the government. However, the fact that the air is thick with dust and pollution is reason enough for startups to disrupt the scene.

A smog tower has given an interesting dimension to the rising pollution levels. Kurin Systems, a Delhi-based startup has created a 40-foot-tall purifier which, as per media reports, can take in air from all 360-degree angles. In turn, this patented product has the capacity to generate 1,300,000 cubic metres of clean air per hour.

Startups in various parts of the country have raised the innovation bar for creating India-specific devices to monitor the air pollution, along with masks and purifiers. These startups cater to individual households, colonies, industries and the upcoming Smart Cities. The outcome is a suite of anti-pollution solutions with cloud-connected networks, solar panels and data-driven information to gauge the air quality. 

Take the case of Phoenix Robotix, an Internet of Things (IoT) startup. Its product, Aurassure, is an integrated solution for monitoring real-time air quality in industries and Smart Cities.

Even as a motorbike zips along, it emits smoke. Ironically this became the inspiration for Shellios, a Delhi-based startup to arrive at an in-built air purifier for motorbikes.

Then there’s Nanoclean Global, whose Nasofilters is a nanotechnology-based respiratory filter that covers the individual’s nostrils. As part of its R&D, the startup has used polymers that are biocompatible.

There are many more startups that are focusing on anti air-pollution devices and solutions. One hopes that the community of startups continues to grow, providing innovative solutions.

From a tech perspective, sensors need to be implemented in public places to measure air density and monitor toxins in the air. The government, both at the centre and state level, should collaborate with NGOs and run projects. The focus has to be on monitoring the air quality. Although sensors are being used, a large-scale implementation is required. Air quality can then be monitored using Big Data and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions. Green technologies and renewable energies will also help improve the air quality.

Along with government-led programmes and startups, it’s important to create local opportunities and the infrastructure in order to tackle pollution. As far as possible, communities should join hands to keep their surroundings dirt-free, so that the air is clean. This will go a long way in sustaining government-led programmes. 

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