It is that time of the year when air pollution is back in headlines in India and even social media is flooded with posts on the crisis that faces several cities across the country. On October 22, Air Quality Index (AQI) levels in Delhi was at 302 with the air quality dropping to the “very poor” category due to meteorological conditions aggravating the situation. This has led to the imposition of GRAP Stage II restrictions being imposed on the city due to a forecast of AQI reaching the projected 301-400 mark.
While the national capital is grappling with its air quality quotes, the country’s financial capital Mumbai has also reported deteriorating air quality levels due to changing weather conditions. AQI levels in Mumbai crossed 200 in several places last week with the city recording a rise in temperature. The city saw particulate matter (PM 10) crossing a four-year high which is expected to get worse due to Cyclone Tej. It compelled the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation into deploying smog guns.
How air pollution affects India
India is home to 39 of the 50 most polluted cities in the world according to the World Air Quality Report by Swiss company IQAir. This made us the eighth most polluted country world over. The silver lining for the country is that Delhi is no longer the most polluted capital city with Chad’s N’Djamena claiming the top spot.
In recent years, air pollution has emerged as one of the major reasons for premature deaths in the country. According to a report, a 2022 Lancet study states that 1.7 million premature deaths in 2019 were caused by air pollution, accounting for almost 18 percent of the total deaths. The report further quotes a study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) that says that life expectancy in India has decreased by 2.6 years due to air pollution related diseases. Another report quotes a study by the Air Quality Life Index that says that PM 2.5 pollution reduces the life expectancy of an average Indian by 5.3 years.
While air pollution is a public health crisis, it also affects the economy of the country. According to a 2021 report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), reducing air pollution in India would lead to economic growth. The report states that had India achieved safe air quality levels in 2019, its GDP would have increased 3% or by $95 billion. The report further states that had India improved the air quality to safe levels, it could have led to 1.7 million fewer premature deaths, thereby preventing 18% of all deaths within the country.
Rise of Cleantech in India
The challenges faced by the community to fight air pollution has led to a growth of cleantech startups that are working on many diverse fields including clean energy, air pollution and waste management. These startups are innovating and coming up with out-of-the-box solutions to tackle the environmental crises facing the country, boosting sustainable living in the process.
Founded in 2016, Chakr Innovation is working to combat air pollution and claims to have developed what it claims is the world’s first retro-fit emission control device (RECD for diesels generators. Its patented technology Chakr Shield reportedly captures around 70% of particulate emissions from diesel generators. Mumbai-based startup Carbon Craft is developing carbon upcycling products to mitigate air pollution. Built by a team of environmental engineering experts, AirOK is working on different equipment for air pollution control. Leveraging IoT and AI, Clairco has developed patented air filtration and optimisation technologies for a smart air purification system.
These start-ups are getting tremendous support in their endeavours. Recently, Massive Earth Foundation launched an accelerator programme in partnership with United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The Low Carbon Earth (LCE) 2023 has been launched to help startups who are working to solve pollution problems in India and working in climate change. Bengaluru-based investment company Vaia Capital (formerly known as CaHa Capital) launched a climate-tech and climate finance-focused venture studio called VAIA Climate.