Bhargav Krishna is a Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR). His research interests span areas of health policy, environmental policy, and environmental epidemiology, with a focus on the impact of air quality and climate change on health. Previously, he set up and managed the Centre for Environmental Health at the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).. In this capacity, he served on Union and State government expert committees on air pollution, biomedical waste, and critically polluted areas.
Krishna holds a Doctorate in Public Health (DrPH) from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, a Master’s degree in Global Environmental Change from Kings College London and an undergraduate degree from Anna University, Chennai. He is Adjunct Faculty at PHFI and Visiting Faculty at Azim Premji University where he teaches environmental health and health policy respectively. He is also co-founder of Care for Air, a Delhi-based non-profit working to raise awareness of air pollution among school children.
In this edition of CPR Faculty Speak, Krishna talks about his work and interests at CPR, why they matter, what impact he hopes to achieve and more.
Tell us about your research work and interests at CPR.
My work at CPR spans areas of environmental policy, epidemiology, and health policy. Within these broad areas, the primary focus of my work is around air quality – understanding the scale of the problem, the impact that it has on health, and the institutional levers that need to be strengthened to improve it in the long-term. This means breaking down the processes by which laws or standards are arrived at, institutional bottlenecks to implementing them, and the ultimate impact they have in terms of illness and premature death.
Why do these issues interest you?
Poor air quality is a challenge that has plagued every developing country, but the scale at which it has affected India is unprecedented in many ways. It is pervasive across the country, within homes through cookstoves and in the ambient air due to a variety of sources like industries, power, and transport. It is also one of the largest risk factors for ill health in India, contributing to over a million premature deaths each year. These factors alone make it an area worthy of deep academic work. Solving this conundrum requires interdisciplinary work to arrive at solutions that blend technical, economic, sociological, and political considerations which makes it an adaptive challenge worthy of our collective attention.
How has this issue evolved in the country and globally over the years?
Global discourse on air quality has evolved significantly over the last half century, but India only really woke up to the scale of its own problem over the last decade. Unfortunately, a lot of the discourse has been centered on Delhi, ignoring the fact that large tracts of the country experience air quality as bad if not worse due to the plurality of sources in rural and urban India. Aside from some large-scale interventions like the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, there has been little in the way of systematic action to improve air quality across various sectors nationally. We hope that some of this action will be catalyzed through the National Clean Air Program city action plans and the 15th Finance Commission funds provided to urban local bodies, but this is yet to be realized.
What impact do you aim to achieve through your research?
Given the complexity of the air pollution problem, we need to be thoughtful, proactive, and systematic in our approach to tackling it. However, air pollution policymaking has been largely ad-hoc and reactionary, resulting often in solutions like smog towers that are tangential to the science. Policymaking around air pollution has also largely ignored the health frame essential to drive effective action. Through my work, I hope to bring the structure and a health frame to work that is fundamental to addressing this complex, multi-faceted issue.
What are you currently working on and why is it important?
I’ve recently published a journal article that documents the effect of air pollution on mortality in Delhi, and will be building on this work to explore the effect of short-term air pollution policies on health. Starting with a webinar we are organizing in early December, we will also be working over the coming months to strengthen the systemic processes that go into defining India’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). The NAAQS are the basis for what we define as clean air and feed into how we communicate health risks through the Air Quality Index. They are being revised for the first time since 2009, and by bringing the CPR approach to strengthening institutions and governance, we hope to ensure that the NAAQS reflect the scientific consensus in and define India’s ambitions viz. air quality improvement in the years to come.
To know more about Bhargav Krishna’s work and research, click here.