Greenvissage explains: Why is air pollution at alarming levels in India? Free vector earth pollution concept illustration

The spectre of air pollution looms large over India, impacting the health, economy, and environment of the nation. As the world grapples with the consequences of urbanization, India faces the daunting challenge of curbing air pollution to ensure a sustainable and healthy future for its citizens. India’s struggle with air pollution is glaringly evident in the statistics. According to the World Air Quality Report by IQAir, the country ranked eighth in the world for air pollution in 2022, with Delhi retaining its unenviable position as the most polluted capital city for the fourth consecutive year. Alarmingly, 39 out of the 50 most polluted cities globally were in India, with Bhiwadi and Ghaziabad leading the list. The prevalent PM 2.5 particulate matter poses severe health risks, contributing to a significant reduction in life expectancy.

Several factors contribute to the escalating air pollution crisis in India.  Vehicular emissions account for 60% of urban pollution, with India’s booming automobile market exacerbating the issue. Poor urban planning focused on widening roads without addressing traffic congestion, leads to increased pollution levels. Unregulated construction emissions contribute to approximately 10% of air pollution in certain regions. Seasonal burning of paddy straw, especially in Haryana and Punjab, worsens smog and particulate matter pollution during winters. Diminishing green spaces contributes to pollution, as urban expansion neglects the importance of urban forests, water bodies, and green cover.

The impact of air pollution in India is multifaceted, affecting health, the economy, and the environment. Health-wise, pollution-related deaths accounted for 17.8% of all fatalities in the country in 2019, with 1.67 million lives lost. Respiratory infections, cardiovascular diseases, and other health complications plague citizens, significantly reducing life expectancy. Economically, air pollution takes a heavy toll. A report by Dalberg Advisors estimated that achieving safe air quality levels in 2019 could have boosted India’s GDP by USD 95 billion, or 3%. Economic losses due to pollution amounted to USD 36.8 billion in 2019, equivalent to 1.36% of the GDP. The economic fallout disproportionately impacts certain states, hindering India’s ambition to become a USD 5 trillion economy.

The Indian government has undertaken several initiatives to combat air pollution in recent years. These include –

Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP) – The CAAP was launched in 2019 to reduce particulate matter concentration in 102 cities by 20-30% by 2024. The plan includes a range of measures, such as stricter vehicular emission standards, promotion of public transportation, and crackdown on industrial pollution.

National Air Quality Index (AQI) – The AQI was launched in 2014 to provide real-time information on air quality in major cities across India. This helps people to make informed decisions about their activities and exposure to air pollution.

Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) – The GRAP is a graded set of measures that are implemented in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) depending on the severity of air pollution. The measures include restrictions on vehicle movement, construction activities, and industrial emissions.

National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) – The NCAP was launched in 2019 to reduce national PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations by 20-30% by 2024. The plan includes a range of measures, such as source apportionment studies, city-specific action plans, and capacity building.

Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) – The PMUY was launched in 2016 to provide free LPG connections to poor households. This has helped to reduce indoor air pollution, which is a major problem in rural India. The government has also taken steps to promote renewable energy and electric vehicles. The National Electric Mobility Mission 2020 aims to achieve 6 million electric vehicles on Indian roads by 2020. The government has also set a target of 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022.


  1. India Air Quality Index
  2. Air Pollution in India
  3. Indians lose 5 years’ life to air pollution, Delhi worst at 12 years
  4. India’s Air Pollution Challenge Spans Rural and Urban Areas