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‘I have been a sort of whistleblower’

Abhinay Lakshman |

Known as the man fighting Delhi’s increasingly toxic air with style, Jai Dhar Gupta, CEO of Nirvana Being, has single-handedly revolutionised the city’s fight against air pollution with his N99 masks known as Vogmask. The 45-year-old environmental entrepreneur/activist started selling pollution masks in 2015, after which there was no stopping him or his company Nirvana India Pvt Ltd.

A man whose passion for the environment knows no bounds, he has been involved in talks with various interest groups and concerned citizen groups to promote awareness of the decreasing air quality in urban cities. Gupta shares that Vogmask is just a small part of his larger plan of fighting air pollution. Excerpt from an interview:

Q. Why is it that you feel drawn towards the cause of clean energy and clean air? Where does the passion come from?

This cause is personal to me — my lungs were compromised in late 2013, when I was running outdoors, training for a marathon. It took me 11 months to realise that my problem was external, due to air pollution. Since then, I have connected with experts from around the world, to learn about air pollution and provide thought leadership on the same from an urban India context.

Q. What were some of the challenges you faced while starting this up in Delhi?

None at all! The expatriate community in Delhi loved the product and adopted it from day one. The market was limited to the foreign community when we started. However, with increased knowledge and awareness, our base has grown to consumers suffering from asthma and allergies, pregnant women, people with respiratory problems, heart disease as well as healthy individuals that use our products as a preventative.

Q. How is this venture different from other clean air/energy ventures you have undertaken?

I think I enjoy my activist role more than my entrepreneurial role. Our alarming levels of air pollution are a public health emergency and I have been a sort of whistleblower trying to draw attention to this cause.

Q. You said that you are somewhat of a whistle blower. What exactly do you mean by that? Are there any specific instances where you have blown the whistle on something and what were the consequences?

I am the first civilian activist that started asking questions. The Central and Delhi Pollution Control Boards till today will advise political leaders that Delhi and North India’s problem is dust. I know that dust irritates, but will not kill anyone. I started the dialogue on PM2.5, a carcinogen and killer, which we were conveniently ignoring. Our PM2.5 level exceeds the WHO safe level by 1,000 per cent on good air quality days. I co-founded citizens’ movements like Help Delhi Breathe and My Right To Breathe to raise awareness.

Q. What challenges do you face when you pursue your activism?

There is a lot of support from everyone who is breathing in urban India be it lawyers, political leaders, police, government servants, expats, diplomats, NRI returns, parents, the sick, NGOs, activists and more — all have supported me in one way or another. I am always looking for ways to reduce my carbon footprint, and this goes a long way in gaining support.

Q. While your products focus on personal protection from harmful particulate matters floating in the air, what broader changes are you working to implement?

I started my journey of an environmental activist before I became an environmental entrepreneur. I have been working with citizens groups, NGOs, media, clubs, schools, corporate and the Delhi government to increase awareness in the hope of getting consensus for strong measures to reverse air pollution. While there is an overall apathy towards health and environment in India, each year, I feel that we are gaining in traction. This year, the big gain was the adoption of the Graded Response Action Plan for Delhi NCR as well as getting the Indian Medical Association behind the cause.

Q. How are your Vogmasks different from other N99 masks in the market?

Nobody offers the same protection of a Vogmask. We beat competition on fit, style and comfort. It is not sufficient to claim that the mask is N99 certified. This is the only mask in India certified by European Commission as FFP2 R, which means it is not only a personal protective equipment but also certified as reusable and washable.

Q. What plans do you have for taking Nirvana Being outside of India?

We do need to take Nirvana Being to markets like Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Thailand and more. Most urban areas of the developing world are plagued by air pollution. The focus for this year is to take the

conversation beyond Delhi to other markets like Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata and Hyderabad. The overseas growth will
follow in due time.