Air Pollution: Indian Cities Start to Fight Back

Co-authored by Sayantan Sarkar

Driving national, state, regional and city action on air pollution was a hot topic of discussion at the recently concluded World Sustainable Development Summit, inaugurated by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Programs such as the Indian government’s recent landmark announcement to focus on bringing down pollution by 50% over the next 5 years in 100 non-attainment cities were highlighted. Efforts in these cities will include expanding monitoring networks, conducting health impact studies, and greater public involvement.

Air Pollution is a serious issue in many Indian cities. A 2017 Lancet Commission study on pollution and health put the number of deaths caused by ambient air pollution at a staggering 1.09 million deaths each year in India. The disease burden of air pollution (indoor and outdoor) is approximately 10% of India’s total burden of disease.

The capital city Delhi launched a two week long Clean Air Campaign. A joint initiative of the national and state governments, the campaign aims to increase awareness around issues of air pollution and develop solutions to improve air quality.

Action by Indian cities is not limited to Delhi. Cities and regions across India are taking action on air pollution. The city of Ahmedabad has adopted a health based plan to protect citizens from high levels of pollution. It also launched a school flags programme to raise awareness on air pollution in schools, reaching over 140,000 students across the city.

Nagpur is embracing electric vehicles which will help in addressing air pollution. It is building a citywide e-mobility plan with charging infrastructure, partnerships with ride-sharing company Ola for electric taxis, tax incentives for electric and hybrid vehicles as well as lower fares for electric buses.

Bengaluru too is looking to build infrastructure to promote electric vehicles. The Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (BESCOM), the local power utility, is launching fast-charging public stations for electric vehicles in 2018 with 11 stations throughout the city.

Chennai is expanding its air quality monitoring network, with eight continuous air quality monitoring stations now operational under the National Air Quality Monitoring Program.

To capture these actions and facilitate knowledge exchange, NRDC and partners the Indian Institute of Public Health Gandhinagar – Public Health Foundation of India (IIPH-G-PHFI) released a new factsheet: Clearing the Air: Highlighting Actions on Fighting Air Pollution in India during the air pollution plenary, Breathing Clean Air, at the World Sustainable Development Summit 2018, hosted by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).


Frances Beinecke, former NRDC President and NRDC Action Fund Trustee, released the factsheet along with Secretary Mishra and other dignitaries. Ms. Beinecke highlighted the role of civil society in enhancing accountability and transparency of action to tackle air pollution.

Speaking at the session, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change Secretary, C.K. Mishra said “air quality is not a one-time affair. Long-term, sustained efforts and mechanisms are needed for good air quality”. Secretary Mishra described Delhi’s Clean Air Campaign and how it can serve as a model for other cities. As part of this campaign, Delhi is deploying a slew of measures including: enhanced communication, piloting technologies and increased vigilance. He also suggested that authorities must look at international experiences, but design solutions that fit the local context.

Indian cities face severe challenges to combat air pollution. A signal from the top to address air pollution will encourage cities and regions to take action. There must be seamless coordination between authorities across the center, states, regions, and cities to enable implementation of adequate measures. Some Indian cities are already acting on air pollution—and this can further motivate other cities to follow suit. There is a long way to go, but there are positive signs from different parts of the country.


Sayantan Sarkar is a climate change specialist working with NRDC as a consultant in New Delhi.

About the Authors

Anjali Jaiswal

Senior Attorney and Director, India Initiative

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