Tackling India's Air Pollution Crisis : Daily News Analysis

Date : 08/11/2023

Relevance: GS Paper 3 - Environment and Ecology ( Also Relevant for GS Paper 1 - Urbanization and Related issues)

Keywords: EPIC, AQI, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission , World Cities Day


On October 31st, the global community observed 'World Cities Day' with the theme "Financing Sustainable Future for All." India is home to a considerable number of the world's most polluted cities, highlighting the pressing need for policy changes to create healthier and more livable environments in Indian urban areas.

The Alarming Reality of Air Pollution in India: Extent and Consequences

  • Extent of Pollution in India
  • India is grappling with a severe air pollution crisis, as highlighted by the Energy Policy Institute at Chicago (EPIC) which revealed that 39 of the 50 most polluted cities globally are located in India. This grim statistic underscores the gravity of the situation, signifying a widespread issue across the nation.

  • Air Pollution: A Growing Concern Across Regions
  • Previously localized to areas such as the Indo-Gangetic plains, the menace of air pollution is now encroaching upon India's coastal cities, indicating an alarming nationwide trend. A striking example is Mumbai, where recent air quality was dubbed "Death by Breath" due to highly unsatisfactory Air Quality Index (AQI) levels.

  • Impact on Life Expectancy
  • The repercussions are dire, with the average Indian losing 5.3 years of their life due to air pollution. Delhi's residents are particularly hard-hit, suffering a staggering loss of 11.9 years on average.

  • Health Implications of Air Pollution
  • The visible health effects among Indian city dwellers are alarming, manifesting as burning eyes, nasal and throat irritation, coughing, breathlessness, and increased asthma cases. Furthermore, air pollution contributes to cardiovascular diseases and a plethora of associated health problems, painting a grim picture of the nation's public health.

Factors Aggravating Air Pollution in Indian Cities

  • Emphasis on Real Estate Expansion
  • Urban development strategies in India often prioritize real estate growth, leading to extensive construction and infrastructure expansion. Consequently, dust and pollutants released during construction activities contribute significantly to worsening air quality.

  • Explosive Rise in the Automobile Sector
  • India's automobile market is experiencing rapid growth, expected to reach a market value of nearly $160 billion by 2027, with a substantial growth rate of 8.1%. This surge results in more vehicles on the roads, raising concerns about widened roads encouraging greater car ownership, leading to increased traffic congestion and higher pollution levels.

  • Challenges from Road Dust and Vehicular Emissions
  • Road dust, generated by road wear and tear, contains harmful particles that become airborne, deteriorating air quality. Vehicular emissions further add to the problem, releasing pollutants into the atmosphere. Motorized transport alone accounts for 60% of urban pollution.

  • Impact of Concrete Batching and Industrial Units
  • Concrete batching, a process involving the mixing of concrete ingredients, releases particulate matter and pollutants into the air. Additionally, industrial units within cities emit various pollutants, negatively impacting air quality.

  • Preference for Grey Infrastructure over Green Spaces
  • Natural green areas like water bodies, urban forests, public green spaces, and urban farming have diminished in size within cities. Conversely, there has been a significant rise in the development of grey infrastructure, exacerbating the imbalance between urban development and environmental preservation.

Winter Air Pollution in North India, Particularly NCR: Causes and Challenges

  • Burning of Paddy Straw (Parali)
  • During the winter months, concerns intensify over the burning of paddy straw, especially in Haryana and Punjab, aggravating the air quality issue in Delhi NCR. While this is a seasonal problem, it significantly contributes to the overall crisis.

  • Construction Activities: A Significant Contributor
  • Construction activities, rampant in almost every Indian city, are responsible for about 10% of air pollution in the NCR region. Unfortunately, there is a lack of effective monitoring and control measures, with no standardized procedures in place.

  • Flawed Urban Development Choices
  • Addressing the deteriorating air quality demands a sustainable approach to urban planning, transportation, and pollution control. However, poor urban development decisions persist, leaving city residents with limited participation and forcing them into passive roles amidst the ongoing urbanization process.

Strategies to Alleviate Air Pollution in Indian Cities: A Roadmap for Change

  • Revamping Urban Planning Strategies
  • A fundamental shift in urban development is imperative, focusing on improving public transportation, creating safe pedestrian pathways, and dedicated bicycle lanes. The appointment of bicycle officers and the implementation of standardized operating procedures for construction activities are essential steps in this direction.

  • Enhancing Public Transport Infrastructure
  • Investment in robust public transport, including the addition of approximately 10 lakh buses to the existing fleet, is crucial to meet the urban mobility demands. Initiatives akin to the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission should be replicated, making public transport accessible and affordable, particularly for the 85% of people in the informal sector.

  • Imposing Strict Measures on Private Vehicles
  • City administrations must enforce decisive regulations on private vehicular movement. Implementing measures like congestion taxes during peak hours and adopting an odd-even number plate system can significantly curb pollution. Encouraging practices like 'No Car Days' and leading by example, with city leaders opting for public transport, can serve as symbolic sources of motivation.

  • Strengthening Governance and Stakeholder Engagement
  • Replicating Delhi's Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) in other cities, based on air quality levels, is essential. Real-time industrial pollution monitoring and community involvement in urban spaces' preservation are vital. Emphasizing effective governance, integrating pollution guidelines into daily life, and enforcing measures like odd-even plate systems require strong governance and public support.


It is imperative for citizens to reject the notion that their lifespans should diminish due to factors like air pollution. Recognizing that the burden of pollution disproportionately falls upon the poor and marginalized segments of society, who are often the least responsible for it, underscores the injustice of the situation. Every citizen deserves an improved quality of life and safeguarding from the detrimental impacts of pollution. Consequently, the government must prioritize providing a better life for urban Indians, ensuring their protection and well-being.

Probable Questions for UPSC Mains Exam-

  1. Question 1: Discuss the factors aggravating air pollution in Indian cities, focusing on urban development choices, vehicular emissions, and industrial activities. Suggest policy interventions to address these challenges and create a sustainable urban environment. (10 marks, 150 words)
  2. Question 2: Evaluate the effectiveness of the strategies proposed to alleviate air pollution in Indian cities, such as enhancing public transport, imposing strict regulations on private vehicles, and strengthening governance. Analyze the potential hurdles in their implementation and propose innovative solutions to overcome these challenges. (15 marks, 250 words)

Source - The Indian Express