ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Air Quality Management in India at the Crossroads

The discourse around air quality has grown substantially since 2015 with renewed engagement from the judiciary, new-found political salience, and executive initiatives. As we move from diagnosing the extent and causes of the crisis to finding appropriate responses, air quality governance will need to expand beyond the traditional policy instruments and agencies to become “regulation-plus.” This also requires government agencies to draw upon expertise beyond the atmospheric science and environmental engineering.


The author would like to acknowledge numerous discussions with Navroz Dubash, Shibani Ghosh, Bhargav Krishna and other colleagues at the Centre for Policy Research that have contributed to the ideas presented in this paper, and editorial comments from Sharachchandra Lele.

Air pollution is the second largest risk factor affecting public health in India; it is estimated to have contributed to ~1.67 million (or about 18% of all) premature deaths in 2019 and 11.5% of all the disability-adjusted life years lost (India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative Air Pollution Collaborators 2019). It increases the risk of a variety of adverse health outcomes, including but not limited to cardiorespiratory diseases, lung cancer, and diabetes in adults and acute lower respiratory infections, low birthweight, and cognitive impairment in children (GBD MAPS Working Group 2018); with each passing year, we discover how it is more harmful than previously understood. It is also a national crisis; an estimated 76% of the Indian population is exposed to air quality levels that are worse than the national standards for fine particles (Apte and Pant 2019). Furthermore, the air pollution crisis is particularly complex in India, with an unusually diverse group of polluting sources necessitating a whole of government response going well beyond the traditional regulatory instruments and spanning administrative boundaries.

Several air pollutants that impact health are: coarse and fine particulate matter (designated based on the size in micrometre as PM10 and PM2.5), carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and sulphur, ammonia, and ground-level ozone. Some of these are emitted directly from various anthropogenic activities, while others are formed from precursor pollutants in the atmosphere. Considerable health evidence has accumulated on both the short- and long-term impacts of PM2.5 exposure, making it the focal point of recent debates. PM2.5 comprises a mixture of chemical substances, attributed to multiple sources such as fossil fuel combustion in industries, power plants and vehicles, biomass burning in households, waste burning, construction, and road dust, crop residue burning, and ammonia emissions from excessive fertiliser use.

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here


To gain instant access to this article (download).

INR 59

(Readers in India)

$ 6

(Readers outside India)

Published On : 17th Jan, 2024

Support Us

Your Support will ensure EPW’s financial viability and sustainability.

The EPW produces independent and public-spirited scholarship and analyses of contemporary affairs every week. EPW is one of the few publications that keep alive the spirit of intellectual inquiry in the Indian media.

Often described as a publication with a “social conscience,” EPW has never shied away from taking strong editorial positions. Our publication is free from political pressure, or commercial interests. Our editorial independence is our pride.

We rely on your support to continue the endeavour of highlighting the challenges faced by the disadvantaged, writings from the margins, and scholarship on the most pertinent issues that concern contemporary Indian society.

Every contribution is valuable for our future.