Updated: Jun 14
Youth entrepreneurs, activists, and writers who are tackling air pollution head-on.
If you live in a densely populated city anywhere in India, you're probably breathing air that's as polluted as smoking a cigarette (or a whole pack in some cases) every day. Indian cities routinely top global pollution rankings, and poor air quality kills over a million people each year. The strangling pollution has become an annual occurrence, and scientists in the country can accurately predict the worst days. However, politics have stymied efforts to clear the air.
In general, India's air quality is harmed by the country's voracious appetite for fossil fuels, which has only grown after two decades of rapid economic growth. Cities are also harmed by rising car emissions and fires started by the poorest residents to cook food and stay warm, especially when colder weather arrives in November. Thankfully, the economic lockdown imposed to contain COVID-19 has resulted in unexpected relief from poor air quality over the last year.
(Also Read: COVID and Climate: A Tale of Two Crises)
Because the government is preoccupied with placing blame, India's youth have decided to take matters into their own hands. In response to climate change, youth involvement can help redirect development paths toward sustainability. Here is a list of activists who, through their innovations and public awareness campaigns, are helping to reduce air pollution in the country.
(Also Read: Can youth activism instigate change?)
1. Vidyut Mohan
Vidyut Mohan is a 29-year-old engineer from Delhi. He had direct experience with the deadly smog caused by stubble burning, which led him to find co-found Takachar. Takachar is a low-cost technological innovation that generates fuel from agricultural waste, thereby preventing stubble burning and the resulting air pollution and it's all Made in India.
Takachar enables farmers to make the most of their waste and earn extra income by converting it into value-added chemicals into saleable products. As a result, the open burning of farm residues is avoided, saving the debris from fires.
According to Vidyut, their mission is to dramatically increase the use of agricultural waste to combat climate change, reduce air pollution, and provide rural value.
2. Ronak Sutaria
Ronak graduated from the University of Mumbai with a BTech in Computer Engineering. He earned a Master of Science in Computer Science from the New Jersey Institute of Technology in the United States. In 2017, Ronak Sutaria founded Respirer Living Sciences, a Mumbai-based startup.
Atmos is a real-time IoT-based air quality monitoring device developed by the company. The device, equipped with a GPRS or GSM module, can measure a particulate matter of various sizes, temperature, humidity, and other hazardous gases such as ozone and carbon monoxide in the air.
Respirer Living Sciences' device is designed to obtain scientific validation of air quality data. The Atmos monitor can be installed in any sheltered outdoor space with a plugin power outlet. If electricity is not available, the device is powered by a battery that can last up to eight hours.
Once installed, the user can obtain real-time data on particulate matter (PM1, PM2.5, and PM10), temperature, humidity, and the number of gases such as ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide.
3. Abhilasha Purwar
In 2017, Abhilasha received a Master's of Environmental Management from Yale University. Abhilasha Purwar is the Chief Air Pollution Fighter at Blue Sky Analytics, which is developing the India Environmental Data Stack with Geospatial and IoT datasets.
Blue Sky Analytics is a downstream value provider in the data analytics market and aims to provide insights and better decision-making tools to a variety of industries.
BSA is working to build the world's largest geospatial data refinery, which will collect massive amounts of raw data and pass it through a process of cleaning, purification, and treatment systems to help organizations and other stakeholders make better decisions about controlling and mitigating air pollution. These steps improve data accuracy and precision, allowing relevant stakeholders to make better decisions and take better actions.
BSA expects to deliver value propositions ranging from $200 million to $1 billion in the coming decade. According to the startup, there is an apparent demand for improved environmental intelligence. What matters to the team now is how BSA can build its products and serve various users and customers to make the world a better place.
4. Abhiir Bhalla
Abhiir Bhala was diagnosed with Bronchitis at a young age, prompting him to launch an anti-air pollution campaign. He has participated in several climate change conferences, and in some of them, he has even served as a panellist. In 2016, he completed a two-month 'Care for Air' Student Ambassador training to raise awareness about air pollution.
He was one of five international youth environmentalists worldwide who spoke with Mr Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, on BBC World News. He was also invited by the UK Government and the Ramphal Institute to be a panellist on a discussion about 'Air Pollution in the Commonwealth' as part of his partnership with the Ramphal Institute, where he is producing a podcast on Climate Change.
Although air pollution was his passion, Abhiir has also worked on wildlife conservation with the World Wildlife Foundation, Kids for Tigers, and Sanctuary Asia. India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority awarded him the prestigious Token of Appreciation.
Abhiir says he wants to continue working with like-minded people regardless of industry, as long as they wan
t to work together to secure a better future for all of us.
5. Yash Marwah
Yash Marwah is a writer and the founder of Let India Breathe, an environmental communications collective that raises awareness and funds to protect India's natural beauty.
When a mangrove park in his hometown of Mumbai was about to be encroached upon by slum rehabilitation authorities, Yash and his co-campaigners formed the group Let Mumbai Breathe to ensure the government heard their voices.
Soon, Let Mumbai Breathe grew into Let India Breathe; the transition allowed the growing team to collaborate with people from all over the country to combat disastrous projects.
Let India Breathe is currently collaborating with several other movements and collectives to withdraw the Indian government's harmful Environmental Impact Assessment Notification (EIA), in addition to running many other campaigns. Let India Breathe has discovered that unity and inclusivity are the threads that bind all environmental justice and action together.
Yash is eager to continue fighting the good fight and connecting with people all over the country. He believes that corporate and government accountability will be a critical component of the movement in the future. His ultimate goal is simply good governance, in which citizens do not have to worry about so many things.
6. Anushree Pratap and Tisya Dewan
Anushree and Tisya are two Delhi students who volunteered with various environmental organisations for a few years before launching their own project, Nitara. Nitara is a youth initiative that began with 8-10 volunteers in 2021 and works on a variety of projects in the areas of environmental and climate justice, equitable education, and social welfare.
Nitara was founded after realising how much climate literacy is lacking in the current curriculum. Nitara plans to develop a curriculum to pitch to state school boards over the next few years.
Currently, the duo is working on a project called Eco-Net, in which the team organises resources into structured modules and publishes them on its website. The duo has also launched a monthly newsletter called Green Column, which brings youth voices to the forefront while providing adequate media attention to climate issues in India that are frequently overlooked by the mainstream media.
7. Srijani Datta
Srijani Datta is a sociology student at Hindu college and has been participating in the youth climate movement since its inception in March 2019. She has volunteered with several climate action groups previously and currently leads a team at Youth For Climate India.
At Youth For Climate India, she works towards building public participation in environmental issues. Here, she co-creates resources with her team to educate people on the scientific, and social aspects of environmental issues.
This year, they are working on creating clean air cohorts in cities such as Moradabad, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Lucknow and the like (cities with the worst air quality in the country). These cohorts will consist of young people identifying pollution sources, creating knowledge bases, mobilising people for the cause and putting forward their demands to their respective governments.
Why is India's pollution much worse than China's?, BBC, 6 November 2019
Why air quality has deteriorated sharply in India’s capital, AlJazeera, 9 November 2021
Air pollution may reduce life expectancy of Indians by nine years, says study, BBC, 1 September 2021,
Earthshot Prize-Winning 'Takachar' By Vidyut Mohan Eliminates 95% Smoke Emissions, India Times, 17 November 2021
Abhilasha Purwar Chief Air Pollution Fighter at Blue Sky Analytics Master of Environmental Management 2017
When a toxic place pushes you to quit, LiveMint, 1 September 2021
Spotlight Series: Abhiir Bhalla, Youth Environmentalist & Sustainability Consultant, South Asians for Sustainability, 15 September 2021
Let India Breathe.org
Yash Marwah: Holding Governments Accountable, 23 September
[Sustainability Agenda] How these teenagers are changing the way we talk about climate crisis, Social Story, 10 December 2021