Elevated Indoor Air Pollution Levels During NDTV Breathe Clean Conclave in New Delhi


Guest blog by Nehmat Kaur, NRDC India Representative in New Delhi


NDTV, a popular media house in India, organized a televised experts discussion on ways to address air quality challenges across India earlier this week as part of its "Breathe Clean" campaign. India's Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar presented his "clean air is my birthright" views as part of his keynote address to the audience. Other air quality experts, including NRDC, presented their views as part of the panel discussion that followed Minister Javadekar's address. Important takeaways and suggestions from the experts included a) the need for monitoring the sources - both stationery and mobile, outdoor and indoor; b) the need for effective health risk communication to engage a wider audience and finally c) the need for clean technology and other control measures and practices to contain the pollution at the source.

The PM 2.5 level inside the discussion hall itself was a whopping 400 micrograms per cubic meter - highlighting the fact that addressing indoor air pollution warrants as much attention as outdoor pollution.


The focus on air quality in New Delhi and several other cities in India has risen tremendously over the last few months. Alarming reports and statistics about the number of people exposed in India by organizations such as the World Health Organization and several others have brought the challenge of air pollution to the forefront of Indian environmental debates. Popular mainstream media houses are running elaborate campaigns on air quality - both outdoor and indoor - taking on the role to educate common citizens on the health effects of bad air quality as well as the nature of pollutants. In continuation of their "Breathe Clean" campaign, NDTV brought together India's top international and Indian health, policy and technology experts including those from the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), NRDC, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Clean Air Asia and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to discuss the health effects of poor air quality and some of the practical solutions that can be used to protect citizens from the alarmingly poor air quality that is prevalent in some parts of the country.


Environment Minister Javadekar through his keynote address highlighted the role of the media, the government and the citizens in addressing the air quality challenges that are prevalent in Indian cities as well as rural areas. He articulated the following efforts being carried out by the government to address both indoor and outdoor air pollution:


  • Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Independence Day appeal to Indians to voluntarily relinquish their liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cooking cylinder subsidies, between 30 to 40 thousand citizens have given up their subsidy. This would be distributed to poor households to reduce dependence on biomass burning and reduction of household air pollution.


  • Solar photovoltaic lights and other applications are being used to reduce the need for and use of kerosene for lighting and other purposes in an effort to further reduce air pollution.


  • Earlier in 2015, the national government launched the National Air Quality Index (AQI) to monitor and provide comprehensive information on pollutant levels in 10 Indian cities in a step towards monitoring outdoor air pollution.


  • In an effort to sensitize waste collectors, the government has undertaken an extensive awareness campaign to educate waste collectors about the harmful consequences of burning biomass and waste.


  • Further in cities, to address the pollution from vehicles and mobile sources, the government is offering a 30% subsidy on the purchase of electric vehicles.


  • A parliamentary act to introduce one lakh electronic three wheelers (rickshaws) in New Delhi has been passed already and plans for a bypass road for trucks to go around New Delhi have been approved.


Minister Javadekar recognized the important of increasing common awareness on the level and dangers of indoor pollution as necessary for citizens to be able to use preventive solutions to safeguard health. "We want to make our air, water and environment clean", said Minister Javadekar, "and together with clean technologies like solar, we will deliver".


According to Anumita Roychowdhury from CSE, the pollution has now become odorless and more dangerous. Cardiologist Dr. Guleria from AIIMS shared that the kind of diesel being used in vehicles now is much smaller in size and contributes to the PM 2.5 levels. PM 2.5 lodges deep into the lungs and leads to reduced lung function and increased risk of heart diseases. He mentioned, for example, a study that revealed that lung function of children who are raised in Delhi to be much lower than those raised in other parts of the country, on account of PM 2.5 exposure. Larger particulate matter such as PM 10 causes irritation and other respiratory ailments such as asthma and bronchial infections.


Indoor air pollution levels are much higher than outdoor air pollution levels in many Indian cities. While the measures to address both outdoor and indoor air pollution include better monitoring, increased health risk communication and using control technologies, use of energy efficient building techniques to reduce the need for air conditioning and ensure proper ventilation are also critical for energy use and air pollution control. Guidelines for appliances and products used inside houses and offices as well as guidelines for emissions from mobile and stationery sources of pollution can help in setting standards for industries across the country. Clean technology including solar and wind reduce the dependence on fossil fuel. Better practices and control technologies for conventional power sources as well as vehicular pollution can be implemented to reduce emissions.


Overall, the experts agree that the top three priorities to start addressing pollution in India are a) monitoring, b) effective and widespread health risk communication and c) ultimately, using clean energy, energy efficiency and control technologies to reduce the overall emissions and pollution. Evidence from cities worldwide shows that the reduction of pollution doesn't need to come at the cost of economic progress. It is possible to decouple economic growth and harmful environmental and health impacts. This open and televised national dialogue about priorities to address air pollution is a good step.