Air Pollution in India


Air pollution refers to any physical, chemical or biological change in the air. It is the contamination of air by harmful gases, dust and smoke which affects the plants, animals, and humans drastically.

In India, air pollution is the third-highest cause of death among all health risks

There is a certain percentage of gases present in the atmosphere. An increase or decrease in the composition of these gases is harmful to survival. This imbalance in the gaseous composition has resulted in an increase in earth’s temperature which is known as global warming.

Causes of Air Pollution:

Vehicle Emissions

Vehicle emissions are another source of fossil fuel emissions and air pollution. Pollution emitting from vehicles including trucks, jeeps, cars, trains, airplanes cause immense amount of pollution. Sulfur dioxide emitted from the combustion of fossil fuels like coal, petroleum and other factory combustibles is one the major cause of air pollution.

Agricultural activities

The Indian state of Punjab has two growing seasons—one from May to September and another from November to April. In November, Punjab farmers typically sow crops such as wheat and vegetables; but before they do that, farmers often set fire to fields to clear them for planting. This increases air pollution in Delhi and NCR area.  Ammonia is a very common by product from agriculture related activities and is one of the most hazardous gases in the atmosphere. Use of insecticides, pesticides and fertilizers in agricultural activities has grown quite a lot.

Dust and Wildfires

In India large areas of open land and construction area that have little to no vegetation, and are particularly dry due to a lack of precipitation, wind can naturally create dust storms. This particulate matter, when added to the air, can have a natural warming effect and can also be a health hazard for living creatures. 

.  Out of the 63 million ha. of forests an area of around 3.73 million ha can be presumed to be affected by fires annually. Wild fires cause air pollution by releasing particulate matter into the air. These particles can become lodged in your respiratory system, causing irritation to tissues.


Deforestation affects the atmosphere in several ways. Forests act as sinks for carbon dioxide through a process called carbon sequestration. 

WasteLandfills are also known to generate methane, which is not only a major greenhouse gas, but also an asphyxiant and highly flammable and potentially hazardous if a landfills grow unchecked.

Electronic waste

About 80% of e-waste from developed countries is illegally exported to developing countries especially China, India and Pakistan because of the lower labor costs and lack of governmental regulations. Large number of people in India are involved in unscientific dismantling, crude chemical leaching of printed circuit boards, burning of wires/waste electrical and electronic components, grinding of residues, washing of metal rich residue (milled black powder).Indoor air pollution: Household cleaning products, painting supplies emit toxic chemicals in the air and cause air pollution.

Effects of Air Pollution

  • Respiratory and heart problems: The effects of air pollution are alarming. They are known to create several respiratory and heart conditions along with Cancer, among other threats to the body. Several million are known to have died due to direct or indirect effects of Air pollution. Children in areas exposed to air pollutants are said to commonly suffer from pneumonia and asthma.
  •  Global warming: Another direct effect is the immediate alterations that the world is witnessing due to global warming. With increased temperatures worldwide, increase in sea levels and melting of ice from colder regions and icebergs, displacement and loss of habitat have already signaled an impending disaster if actions for preservation and normalization aren’t undertaken soon.
  • Acid rain: Harmful gases like nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides are released into the atmosphere during the burning of fossil fuels. When it rains, the water droplets combine with these air pollutants, becomes acidic and then falls on the ground in the form of acid rain. Acid rain can cause great damage to human, animals, and crops.
  •  Eutrophication: Eutrophication is a condition where a high amount of nitrogen present in some pollutants gets developed on sea’s surface and turns itself into algae and adversely affect fish, plants and animal species. The green coloured algae that are present on lakes and ponds is due to the presence of this chemical only.
  •  Effect on wildlife: Just like humans, animals also face some devastating effects of air pollution. Toxic chemicals present in the air can force wildlife species to move to a new place and change their habitat. The toxic pollutants deposit over the surface of the water and can also affect sea animals.
  •  Depletion of the ozone layer: Ozone exists in the Earth’s stratosphere and is responsible for protecting humans from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Earth’s ozone layer is depleting due to the presence of chlorofluorocarbons, hydro chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere. As the ozone layer will go thin, it will emit harmful rays back on earth and can cause skin and eye related problems. UV rays also have the capability to affect crops.
  • Glacier Melt: Most Himalayan glaciers have been retreating over the past century. At 2.5°C warming, melting glaciers and the loss of snow cover over the Himalayas are expected to threaten the stability and reliability of northern India’s primarily glacier-fed rivers. Alterations in the flows of the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra rivers could significantly impact irrigation, affecting the amount of food that can be produced in their basins as well as the livelihoods of millions of people
  • Sea level rise: With India close to the equator, the sub-continent would see much higher rises in sea levels than higher latitudes. Sea-level rise and storm surges would lead to saltwater intrusion in the coastal areas, impacting agriculture, degrading groundwater quality, contaminating drinking water, and possibly causing a rise in diarrhoea cases and cholera outbreaks, as the cholera bacterium survives longer in saline water. Kolkata and Mumbai, both densely populated cities, are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of sea-level rise, tropical cyclones, and riverine flooding.

Other air pollution control measures include:

  1. By minimizing and reducing the use of fire and fire products.
  2. Since industrial emissions are one of the major causes of air pollution, the pollutants can be controlled or treated at the source itself to reduce its effects. For example, if the reactions of a certain raw material yield a pollutant, then the raw materials can be substituted with other less polluting materials.
  3. Fuel substitution is another way of controlling air pollution. In many parts of India, petrol and diesel are being replaced by CNG – Compressed Natural Gas fuelled vehicles. These are mostly adopted by vehicles that aren’t fully operating with ideal emission engines.
  4. Although there are many practices in India which focus on repairing the quality of air, most of them are either forgotten or not being enforced properly. There are still a lot of vehicles on roads which haven’t been tested for vehicle emissions.
  5. Another way of controlling air pollution caused by industries is to modify and maintain existing equipments so that the emission of pollutants is minimized.
  6. Sometimes controlling pollutants at the source is not possible. In that case, we can have process control equipment to control the pollution.
  7. A very effective way of controlling air pollution is by diluting the air pollutants.
  8. The last and the best way of reducing the ill effects of air pollution is tree plantation. Plants and trees reduce a large number of pollutants in the air. Ideally, planting trees in areas of high pollution levels will be extremely effective.

Steps taken by Indian Government for Prevention and Control of Pollution:

India has initiated major steps to address pollution sources: the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana Household LPG program, accelerated Bharat Stage 6/VI clean vehicle standards, and the new National Clean Air Programme. 

  • Paris Agreement: Under the Paris Agreement, India has made three commitments. India’s greenhouse gas emission intensity of its GDP will be reduced by 33-35% below 2005 levels by 2030. Alongside, 40% of India’s power capacity would be based on non-fossil fuel sources. At the same time, India will create an additional ‘carbon sink’ of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of Co2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.
  • International Solar Alliance: ISA was launched at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris on 30 November 2015 by India and France, in the presence of Mr. Ban Ki Moon, former Secretary-General of the United Nations.
  • Bharat Stage (BS) Emission Norms: Emissions from vehicles are one of the top contributors to air pollution, which led the government at the time to introduce the BS 2000 (Bharat Stage 1) vehicle emission norms from April 2000, followed by BS II in 2005. BS III was implemented nationwide in 2010. However, in 2016, the government decided to meet the global best practices and leapfrog to BS-VI norms by skipping BS V altogether.
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