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India’s air Pollution crisis is taking a toll on the health of its citizens. A report by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air think tank revealed that almost the entire population of India is exposed to air pollution above the guidelines set by the World Health Organization. In 2019, air Pollution was responsible for an estimated 1.6 million deaths in India. As government efforts to fix the problem at the source fail, a new kind of inequality is emerging in Indian cities. Wealthier Indians are paying to breathe free, creating a booming market for air purifiers that is forecast to grow 35 percent to $597 million by 2027.

Source: Al Jazeera English/Youtube

The need for expensive air purifiers is driving a new kind of inequality in India. With air quality outside becoming increasingly dangerous, the wealthy are paying for breathable air, while the rest of the population is left to suffer. Air purifiers are unaffordable for most, creating yet another layer of economic inequality in a country that is already divided along caste, gender, and religious lines. Suryakant Waghmore, a professor of sociology at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, warns that by allowing the privileged to breathe clean air while the public is left to decay, we are normalizing a world that hardly values nature and natural rights. Basic necessities like clean drinking water, fresh and unpolluted air, and space to walk for pedestrians are neither part of urban planning nor do they concern our collective conscience.

The need for clean air is real, as Timothy Dmello, a paid dog walker in Mumbai, can attest. Dmello spends 12 hours a day outdoors, and he has seen the quality of air decline significantly over time. At home, dust from outside builds up, while outside he’s exposed to fumes and particulates. Like most people he knows, he fell ill with a cough and cold this winter and couldn’t work. The cost of air purifiers is out of reach for people like Dmello. Cheaper models start at 6,000 rupees ($72), which is unaffordable for most of India’s population.

The air Pollution crisis in India is not going away anytime soon, and governments have tried unsuccessfully to address the problem. Purifiers are not the solution, according to Ronak Sutaria, founder of Respirer Living Sciences, an urban data startup that monitors air Pollution. Experts believe that traditional methods of Pollution control are more effective than purifiers. Pallav Purohit, a senior research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, says that air purifiers create narrow columns of purified air that only benefit people who are close to them for an extended period of time.

The air Pollution crisis in India is not just a health problem; it is also a social problem. Air purifiers are a stark illustration of the unequal access to clean air. The borders of private spaces, like offices and hotels, are increasingly marked by air purification, and those working the entrances and exits to these buildings don’t breathe the purified air available to those inside. Suryakant Waghmore warns that air purifiers only consolidate the ideology of “purity” as something that is central to the lives of dominant castes. Such inequality has severe consequences, as those from disadvantaged castes already face considerable barriers in accessing healthcare.

The solution to India’s air pollution crisis requires collective action. Governments must invest in public infrastructure and transport to counter environmental degradation. Individuals can take steps to reduce their carbon footprint and advocate for policies that promote clean air. It is time for all of us to demand solutions that provide clean air to everyone. As pulmonologist Revathy K notes, “If you don’t get something as basic as fresh air, then what’s the point of living in our country?”

There are many steps that we can take as individuals to reduce our carbon footprint and promote clean air. One of the most important things we can do is to reduce our reliance on single-use plastics, which are a major contributor to air Pollution. We can also reduce our use of fossil fuels by carpooling or using public transportation. By using energy-efficient appliances and turning off electronics when not in use, we can also reduce our energy consumption and help reduce Pollution.

We can also advocate for policies that promote clean air. We can write to our elected officials and demand that they take action to address air Pollution. We can Support environmental organizations that are working to promote clean air and reduce Pollution. By working together, we can create a better future for ourselves and for generations to come.

It is time for all of us to take action to address India’s air Pollution crisis. We must demand solutions that provide clean air to everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status. As pulmonologist Revathy K notes, clean air is a basic necessity, and we must all work together to ensure that everyone has access to it. Let us take action today to create a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable future for ourselves and for future generations.

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