Article by Abhimanyu Mathur in the Times of India, 13th November
GURGAON: Every year the morning after Diwali, NCR wakes up to a cloud of smog, with the capital’s already alarming air pollution level in a much worse state. Even this year – with a considerable dip in firecracker sale – levels of fine particulate matter in the city’s air rose to almost 30 times the prescribed international value. With air pollution being a constant talking point throughout the year, Gurgaon has decided to protect themselves against the poisonous air. Air-purifiers, which, till last year, were considered non-essential, have witnessed a huge increase in sale across NCR this year – especially around Diwali. Even as doctors and pollution experts remain sceptical about the efficacy and benefits of these devices, Gurgaon residents seem to have put their faith in them for protecting their lungs after Diwali.
168% rise in sales of air purifiers this Diwali:
Air purifier manufacturers in India say that this Diwali has been a windfall for them as sales have broken all records. Shuvendu Mazumdar, national product manager, air purifiers, Sharp India, says, “The retailers definitely saw an increase in sale in the countdown to Diwali. The trend of gifting air purifiers to friends, family and even business associates is new. As a result, our retail sales have grown by approximately 168% compared to previous Diwali. This trend is likely to continue.”
Aseem Juneja, product head – air purifiers, Panasonic India, says, “Air purifiers first came into focus as a consumer product in India during Obama’s visit in January. Back then, a number of foreign publications had carried articles about how Delhi’s toxic air had shortened his life span by approximately six hours. This led to us getting a lot of queries. Soon, a lot of companies entered the air purifier market post summer and the sales also started to go up. But Diwali has really been a watershed moment for us. In the first ten days of November we have surpassed the sales figures of October.”
‘Can’t control smoke so this is the last resort’
Residents of NCR say that even though the sale of firecrackers has dipped this year, people will still burst lots of crackers, filling the air with smoke. The Delhi Pollution Control Committee has estimated that the already high levels of particulate matter and other pollutants will further increase by three-fold on Diwali.
Jaspreet Bhatia, a resident of Udyog Vihar, says, “I gifted my sister an air purifier for Diwali. The area around her residence is always full of dust and smog. I knew it would get even worse around Diwali so it seemed like a good gift. Moreover, with all e-tailers offering discounts on electronic items, I was able to save a few thousand bucks.”
Deepti Singh, a resident of Delhi’s RK Puram, says, “I bought an air purifier for `30,000 about a week before Diwali. I had been thinking about buying one for a while and when I read in the news that air pollution will increase three-four times during Diwali, I decided that it was time. Even if people burst fewer crackers, there will still be thousands doing it. This is the least we can do to protect our health.”
Kanika Malhotra, who recently purchased an air purifier for her Delhi residence, says, “It’s not just about firecrackers. Pollution levels have been bad all year. You can hardly see the stars at night due to the smog. And Diwali has made it worse. Air purifiers have been around for some time now but I felt that this year there was an urgent need to get one. My brother has asthma and I have heard that air purifiers can help people with asthma and allergies.”
Dishant Sharma, a marketing executive from Noida, Sector 50, says, “Diwali or no Diwali, pollution levels are high as it is. If we are starting initiatives like Car-Free Day in a city that depends so much on cars for commuting, it says a lot about our desperation to curb air pollution. People bursting firecrackers is not in our control, but we can do something about the air that goes in our lungs. So, air purifiers are our best bet. I bought one last week.”
Not picky about prices:
PN Pradhan, manager of a home appliance store here, says, “Over the last few months, the sales have been rising at about 10% each month, but in the last week or so, the queries have doubled and we’ve sold as many purifiers in these seven days as we sell in a month. An interesting aspect is that customers seem to be okay with spending money on them. Generally, when it comes to home appliances customers are particular about prices, but these days they are open to spending big bucks on air purifiers.”
Rajat Verma, a salesman with a leading air purifier brand in Delhi, tells us, “There is a sort of panic among people this year. Air pollution has been a much talked about topic all year and that has affected people’s psyche. They are also not picky about the price. Many are open to spending more than `30,000 for a good air purifier, even when there are cheaper ones available for less than half that amount.” Vinod, salesperson at an air purifier store in Noida, Sector 18, says, “Cheap air purifiers begin at `10,000, but most branded ones are priced over `25,000.
People don’t know much about air purifiers, so despite the cost, they prefer big established brands.”
No conclusive proof that air purifiers clean the air: Authorities
NCR residents might think that air purifiers are their only protection against the city’s toxic air, but experts are not convinced about their efficacy. They say that despite the increase in sale, no impartial study has proved their efficiency.
Dr MP George, a senior scientist with the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, says, “All I can say is that there has been no study on the efficacy of these air purifiers, so we cannot say if they are effective or not. I cannot comment on it without a study or test – something that has not been conducted by any independent party yet.”
Atulesh Yadav, Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board’s regional director for Noida, tells us, “It is true that there has been no state-sponsored study about the efficacy of air purifiers. But that is largely because the product is something new and niche in the Indian market. But as the sales are increasing, it is on our agenda to test how effective an air purifier is in lowering pollutants in the air.” Sources from within the board say that such a study is to be conducted in the NCR districts of the state in the near future.
Air purifiers only provide limited relief: Pulmonologists
Pulmonologists (chest physicians) say that air purifiers are effective, albeit in a limited manner. Dr Vivek Nangia, director and head of department of pulmonology at Fortis Hospital, Delhi, says, “A study did show that exposure to air purifiers benefit patients suffering from allergic asthma. Having said that, it is important to note that air purifiers only control the internal environment and not the external environment. Diwali pollution mostly affects the streets and the public spaces, which cannot be improved by air purifiers. But one does spend 8-10 hours a day inside the house, so there is certainly no harm in breathing healthy air for that duration.”
Dr Vinod Anand, a Delhi-based pulmonologist, says, “Air purifiers can actually make us more susceptible to pollution. By cleaning the air inside the buildings, it will increase the difference in the pollution levels of the air inside and outside. Clean air is good, but if you get very clean air for one part of the day and very polluted air outside, it can harm you as the respiratory system’s resilience and your immunity will decrease.”