Air pollution – UPSC GS1

Report : Global Air 2019
  • Exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution contributed to over 1.2 million deaths in India in 2017.
  • Air pollution is the third highest cause of death among all health risks, ranking just above smoking in India.
  • In India, 60 per cent of the population still uses solid fuels. This underscores the importance of achieving success in government initiatives to address the problem.
  • China and India together were responsible for over half of the total global attributable deaths from air pollution in 2017.


Critically examine the policies and mechanisms that exist in India to assess and monitor the pollution levels on air in cities. (200 Words)
Air pollution is increasingly becoming a threat to the healthy lives of individuals in India, especially the urban cities. The responsibility to keep it under check and
prevent its spread falls with Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate, through the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
The constitutional provision for the same is given under The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981 (amended in 1987).
Under the above umbrella, the following steps have been taken to improve the
quality of air:
  1. National Air Quality Monitoring Programme by the CPCB, under which there are 342 operational stations placed in every city for real time data assessment for subsequent action. However, most of the stations are limited only to a few select cities (Delhi has 19 whereas Haryana has only 3), and also lack the necessary infrastructure and technology to provide accurate and real time date.
  2. Bharat IV (2005) norms given by JNNURM for the vehicles plying on Delhi Roads. However, vehicles pe-2005 blatantly flout these norms and continue to run on the roads unabated.
  3. National Air Quality Index (AQI) launched under Swachh Bharat, based on the global benchmarks. However, lack of clarity on targeted implementation of the AQI can result in fallacies of the programme, like above.
  4. Separation of Industrial and Residential Areas to minimize the impact of pollution on individuals
It is clear from the current state of the policies so far that dealing with Air Pollution needs a comprehensive and inclusive approach, with equally participation and cooperation for the individuals and private sectors. More than regulation, the correct incentives need to be placed towards a cleaner air. Some of such steps can be as following:
  1. Making availability of alterative cleaner technologies easier and affordable
  2. Increased awareness through schools, hospitals and community locations
  3. Partnership with automobile manufacturers to proactively and periodically monitor the cars at a subsidized rate
  4. Encourage innovation, especially by the students, in the technology used for monitoring the pollution levels such that it can be deployed across a wider area in the country
Cleaner Air carries with it other positive externalities of better health, better state of mind for education, better cultural development, better tourism etc. and hence must be taken on priority by the country as a whole.


Critically examine the main causes and consequences of urban air pollution in India. What efforts have been made and what needs to be done to address this problem? Comment. (200 Words)
Air pollution in India remains one of the key challenges. Air pollution is defined in terms of gases and suspended and respirable particulate matter like carbon dioxide, methane, sulphur and nitrogen oxides, PM 2.5 and PM 10. Thirteen of twenty most air polluted cities are in India. Delhi is most notorious amongst Indian cities
Major reasons are:
  1. Fuelwood and biomass burning. Most Indian homes in rural areas use wood or biomass cakes in their chullhas. Besides, in winter and autumn seasons farmer burn their residue stocks rather than mechanical tilling. This also causes the Big Brown Cloud which delays the monsoon.The solution here is to extend electricity to rural areas and provide them with cleaner fuels like biogas ( whose slurry also makes excellent fertilizer).
  1. Fuel adulteration. While traffic congestion is one of the major causes, it is aggravated due to mixing of cheap ingredients to fuel whenever prices rise. This situation arises also due to differential taxing regimes over hydrocarbons which is not in tune with air pollution concerns. For example gasoline is taxed more than kerosene. Earlier many vehicles did not use unleaded petrol, catalytic converters and even today the vehicles non-compliant to Bharat Stage 4 are plying roads.
The solution here is to make vehicular pollution standards strictly applicable, tax petrol more to fetch money to build public means of transport and make all public vehicles run on cleaner fuels like CNG.
  1. Greenhouse gases. India is third largest emitter of carbon dioxide and mostly it comes from power sector and heating. Methane results from landfills and waste disposal. Decreasing green cover is a huge concern.
The solution here is to replace coal-fired or gas-fired plants with better technologies. Treatment of exhaust must be done before releasing from chimneys.
  1. Other factors are Chloflourocarbons from cooling machines and miscellaneous factors like Diwali festivals.
Consequences of air pollution are drastic effects in health and productivity. Respiratory diseases like asthma, bronchitis and lung cancer, asbestosis, etc. are common. Over young people the effects are autism and stunted growth. Agricultural productivity decrease as well.
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) monitors the air quality standards periodically. But unfortunately it is below standards accepted. The Air ( Prevention and Control of pollu5ion) Act was passed in 1981 but a lot needs to be done specially in creating awareness and in ensuring green cover.

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