IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


20th May, 2023 Environment

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  • During 2018-2021, India witnessed the maximum levels of human-induced air pollution, noted a new study.

Highlights of the study

  • This period, traversing the three phases of the COVID-19 pandemic (pre, during and post), saw a surge in air pollution owing to the development of transportation, industrial power plants, green space dynamics and unplanned urbanisation in the country, noted the study.
  • The research titled Machine learning-based country-level annual air pollutants exploration using Sentinel-5P and Google Earth Enginewas published in journal Nature .
  • Anthropogenic actions are the foremost reason for climatic conditions and atmospheric changes, and India is the country most affected by such activities, it added. 
  • In terms of rural air pollution, “agricultural waste burning is also the main reason,” it added.
  • The years 2020 and 2021 saw drastic changes in Air Quality Index (AQI), whereas 2018 and 2019 saw low AQI throughout the year.
  • Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune and Chennai recorded huge fluctuations in terms of air pollution during the study period.
  • In India, anthropogenic activities and human health-related problems are increasing gradually.
  • This triggers health issues and pollution-related diseases like asthma, respiratory disease, lung cancer, as well as skin-related diseases.
  • The primary pollutants of concern are NO2, carbon monoxide, ozone, sulphur dioxide and methane.

Air pollution and extreme climatic conditions

  • They are mutually connected.
  • Sunlight is affected by air pollutants like methane, ozone and aerosols.
  • The high voltage electric discharge has altered oxygen to ozone.
  • And the subsequent depletion of the ozone layer increased the penetration of ultraviolet rays.
  • Similarly, climate change also influences air quality and pollutants, noted the study.

Way Forward according to the study

  • Awareness and planning are much needed for protecting our environment.
  • Proper planning, management and development strategies can help protect the environment.
  • Otherwise, climate change and air pollution will increase health emergencies, ecological diversity and environmental degradation, the study warned.

Air Pollution- a multifaceted risk

  • Air pollution poses a multi-faceted risk due to its adverse impact on health.
  • It is the leading contributor of mortality from cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.
  • DALYs (Disability adjusted life years) due to air pollution is alarming, which is a composite metric that combines the years of life lost due to premature death (YLLs) and the years lived with disability (YLDs).
  • Air pollution has also severe adverse impacts on flora and fauna in different regions, threatening the environment and ecosystem and even leading to extinction of some species.
  • The populations are affected not only by exposing to outdoor pollution but also the indoor air pollution is very high across different vulnerable regions.
  • The socio-economic impact of air pollution affects the population in different ways, particularly economically deprived people in a more vulnerable way.
  • It is estimated that 9 out of 10 people worldwide are exposed to air pollution.
  • According to WHO, air pollution kills around 7 million people every year worldwide.

Scenario in India

  • India has an average PM2.5 level of 40-50 μg per cubic meter, approximately four times that of WHO prescribed limit of 10 μg.
  • The air pollution in Indian cities, on average, exceeded the WHO recommended safe limit threshold by an alarming 500% .
  • Among 30 most polluted cities in the world, 22 cities of India were found to be most polluted (World Air Quality report 2020).
  • WHO (2019) ranked India as the fifth most country affected by air-pollution based on the PM2.5 concentrations.
  • It is estimated that about 1.7 million deaths in 2019 occurred in India due to direct and indirect effect of air pollution only; which is about 18% of the total deaths during the period.
  • It is estimated that about 1.36% of GDP has been lost due to premature deaths and morbidity in India.
  • This economic loss has been estimated to affect state GDP ranging from 0.67% to 2.15%.

Sources of Air Pollution in India

  • The most commonly identified sources are vehicles, manufacturing and electricity generation industries, construction activities, road dust, waste and agriculture burning, combustion of oil, coal and biomass in the households, and marine/sea salt.
  • Population growth, rapid urbanization, industrialization and increasing economic activities have also contributed to an increase in the level of air pollution.

Major air pollutants

  • Particulate matters (PM1, PM2.5, PM10), NOX, SOx, CO, Ozone, and Pb etc., are the major pollutants impacting the air quality.
  • The data generated from National Air quality programme, 5 and PM10 are the major pollutants which are found to be exceeding National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS).
  • In urban areas, the road traffic emissions are one of the major contributors to air pollution.
  • While road dust is a major contributor to PM emissions in the mega cities like Delhi (37%), Mumbai (30%), and Kolkata (61%).
  • Similarly, road transport is also the largest contributor to PM2.5 in Bengaluru (41%), Chennai (34%), Surat (42%), and Indore (47%).

Major policy initiatives by the Indian Government

  • The major policies that cover the air-pollution mitigation and move towards clean air are:
    • The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981
    • National Air Quality Monitoring Programme (NAMP)
    • National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)
    • National Air Quality Index (AQI) Comprehensive Action Plan (CAP) in 2018 to identify timelines and implementing agencies for actions identified for prevention, control and mitigation of air pollution in Delhi and NCR
    • Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) for prevention, control and abatement of air pollution in Delhi and NCR.
    • The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM)
    • Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA)
    • National Clean Air Programme (NCAP)
    • Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana
  • One of the key stakeholders of the Government is the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), a statutory organization under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
    • It was constituted in September 1974 under the Water (Prevention and Control Pollution) Act 1974 which was further entrusted with powers and functions under the Air (Prevention and Control Pollution) Act 1981.

National Air Quality Monitoring Programme (NAMP)

  • National Air Quality Monitoring Programme (NAMP), started in 1984, is a nation-wide program being executed by the Government to determine the prominence of ambient air quality exposed to three different air pollutants, SO2, NO2, and PM10 at all locations.
  • The NAMP comprises of 703 manual operating stations in 307 cities of the country.
  • The other parameters like PM2.5, Carbon monoxide (CO), Ammonia (NH3), Lead (Pb), Ozone (O3), Benzene (C6H6), Benzo (a)pyrene (BaP), Arsenic (AS) and Nickel (Ni) are being monitored at selected locations and slowly being added in the monitoring network of NAMP.


  • One of the important initiatives for air quality evolution is Air Quality Index (AQI) launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015.
  • AQI is a tool for transformation of complex air quality data of various pollutants into a single number, to keep people informed about the status of air quality.
  • There are six AQI categories, namely Good, Satisfactory, Moderate, Poor, Severe, and Hazardous.
  • The proposed AQI will consider eight pollutants (PM10, PM2.5, NO2, SO2, CO, O3, NH3, and Pb) for which short-term (up to 24-hourly averaging period)


  • Recently, the National Clean Air Program (NCAP) was launched by the government.
  • This program aims at reducing PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations in 122 cities in India by 20-30% by 2024 compared to the corresponding levels in 2017.


  • One recent initiative is the high-tech Air Quality Early Warning System for forecasting extreme air pollution developed by Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), India Meteorological Department and National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF) under Ministry of Earth Sciences.
  • To predict air quality at block level, the government has unveiled fastest and first Multi Petaflop supercomputer “PRATYUSH” High Power Computing (HPC) system at Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM).
  • System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting Research known as “SAFAR” has also been introduced by the Government for greater metropolitan cities of India to provide location specific information on air quality in near real time.
  • India has taken a bold initiative towards transformation of cities to Smart Cities. The smart city can help in control of air pollution in various ways.

Sector Specific Challenges and Interventions


  • The transport sector accounts for more than 16 percent of total carbon equivalent emissions and over 33 percent of the PM pollution.
  •  The BS-VI (Bharat Standard) norms for vehicular and fuel emission standards were adopted in 2020.
  • The National Policy on Biofuels had been announced in 2018, and aims to achieve 20 percent blending of ethanol in petrol and 5 percent blending of biodiesel in diesel by 2030.
  • Additionally, a national electric mobility mission plan 2020 has also been introduced and it aims at increasing the adoption of electronic vehicles. The target of the government is to have a complete ecosystem of E-mobility by 2030, enabling a share of more than 30 percent for the electric vehicles among the total.


  • The various factors that contribute to the worsening of air quality due to agricultural activities include, seasonal burning of crop residues, emissions of greenhouse gases such as methane (CH4), Ammonia (NH3), Nitrous Oxide (N2O) and Carbon Dioxide (CO2) from farming and/or cattle rearing.
  • In 2014, Government formulated the national policy on residue burning namely ‘National Policy for management of Crop Residue (NPMCR)’.
  • A new central sector scheme on 'Promotion of Agricultural mechanization for insitu management of crop residues in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and NCT of Delhi' for a period of two years was implemented.
  • Many alternative technology-based solutions are being tried such as Pyro former- a waste to energy technology. Other available solutions (e.g., PUSA Decomposer) rely on biochemical processes.


  • Manufacturing and construction are major industries that are contributing towards air pollution in large scale.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) and solid particulate matter (PM) are some major pollutants that is generated by the manufacturing industries.
  • International Institute for Energy Conservation (IIEC) is helping two Indian states-Gujarat and Odisha to build air quality monitoring and tracking capacity.
  • CPCB has developed ‘Range of pollution Index’ for classification of Indian industries.

Clean Fuel Initiatives

  • The Environment (Protection) Amendment Rules, 2015 mandated upgrading the thermal power plants by December 2022.
  • The government also is exploring the possibilities of utilization of Flash from TPPs (Thermal Power Plants) in efficient manner.

Adoption of Renewable Sources of Energy

  • India aims to generate 175GW of energy from renewable sources (100GW from Solar).

Climate Change influenced by Air Pollution

  • The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), aims to prevent “dangerous” human interference in the climate system and recognizes human activities are the major contributors of climate change.
  • The first COP (COP1) laid the foundation for Kyoto Protocol. It emphasised the countries to strengthen the measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The COP3 urged countries to reduce emissions by an average of 5 percent and a carbon market called “cap and trade” was created to encourage sustainable development.
  • The COP15 came up with a non-binding document which acknowledges that the global temperatures should not increase by 2 degrees C above the preindustrial levels.
  • In COP16, the Green Climate Fund of USD 100 billion was established to assist developing countries in climate change mitigation and adaptation.
  • The Paris agreement which is the most significant climate agreement was signed by 196 countries. Its mission is to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees C and undertake efforts to keep it below 1.5 degrees C.

Way Forward

  • All vehicles and engines must abide by emission standards for specific pollutants, including smog, soot and greenhouse gases.
  • Installing air filtration systems in areas with high levels of pollution may assist in reducing exposure to toxic air.
  • A strategic approach is highly required to control ozone pollution.
    • Reducing the effects of acid deposition caused by acid rain which leads to stratospheric ozone depletion should be given considerable importance.
  • Air pollution has to be recognised as a disaster and should be in the ambit of National Disaster Management authority whenever the limits cross dangerous levels.
  • Many solutions for clean air are not technology solutions as such. They need to be interfaced with socio-economic aspects and involve citizen/citizen groups.
  • A revision in NAAQs is necessary as the current standards did not result in effective air pollution control.
  • The current mechanism of air quality monitoring should be expanded to rural areas as well.
  • Regional air pollution prevention and control programs should be developed by providing technical and financial support to the State governments.
  • Establishing “Clean Air Technology Center” in regions of high pollution may serve as a good initiative to reduce air pollution to some extent. Such centers may aid as resource centres to control air pollution prevention technologies like implementation and efficiency.
  • Mapping of city-wise major sources of Air pollution. The highly polluted areas should be declared as air pollution management areas and preference should be given to control the emission sources in such areas.
  • The government should enforce a legislation to prohibit the use of coal at least in some industrial and household applications.
  • The financing for clean energy through innovative financing may be provided by the government to increase energy efficiency and expand clean energy.
  • Need of Effective Collaboration between inter-state and interministerial for formulation of policies and implementation.
  • More Scientific studies on impacts of air pollution on health of human, environment and the ecosystems and need greater public awareness of the problems and action to be taken.
  • India needs actionable, implementable polices that are based on good assessment of pollution levels and sources.
  • Projects on trans-boundary air pollution should be initiated in India and more funding for emission inventories, acid deposition accompanied by modelling studies for the assessment of transport should be provided.


Q) The World Health Organisation stated that nearly 99 % of people in the world breathe polluted air containing too many pollutants. There is a need to prioritise clean energy access for households that need it the most and take active measures to clean up our industrial sector. In this context, discuss the various sector-specific challenges and solutions that can be undertaken in this regard. (250 words)