Government Measures taken for Air Pollution: India

The below article talks about air pollution, air quality, some mitigation strategies implemented by India to address air pollution concers, along with some frequently asked questions about air pollution, air quality, and mitigation strategies.

Are there Indian government measures taken to address air pollution?

Yes, India has taken specific measures to address the air pollution concerns that have risen over the years. Measures undertaken are multi-pronged, and are aimed to address air pollution through different sectors. Some measures undertaken include phasing out old vehicles, banning firecrackers, setting up strict environmental regulatory frameworks for several industries, setting up energy efficiency frameworks, etc. 

India and Pollution

India first experienced environmental laws and regulations for the first time under the British colonization, as early as 1853 through the Shore Nuisance Act. The earliest reported regulations aimed at controlling air pollution was the Bengal Smoke Nuisance Act in 1905, followed by the Bombay Smoke Nuisance Act in 1912 (Shrangi V. & Nandi J., 2019). While these laws failed to create the regulations the authorities had hoped for, it certainly lay a foundation to the environmental laws and regulations practiced in the country today. Following the country’s independence from the British, India adopted various British enacted laws including specific ones pertaining to the protection of the environment. In 1976, India amended its constitution through Article 48(A) of Part IV, which read the following: “The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.” and through Article 51A(g), the constitution now implemented several environmental mandates in the state. 

Other pollution and environment laws adopted include the following 

  • Under the Prevention and Control of Pollution section: 
    • The Water Act of 1974
    • The Air Act of 1981, inspired by the decisions made during Stockholm Conference
  • The Forest Conservation Act of 1980
  • The Environmental Protection Act of 1986 triggered by the Bhopal Gas Tragedy
  • Regulation and Control Rule for Noise Pollution in 2000

It wasn’t until 1985 that the state had a Ministry of Environment and Forests, and eventhough several laws in regards to environmental quality and environmental protction, most of which are still active, were passed. However, the reality of environmental standards in India continually worsened following independence in 1947, until 1990. Most environmental regulations were widely disregarded at the face of rapid development an urbanization, and most laws were ignored in the process. Environmental laws and frameworks were seen as mere formality, and various reports shows us that environmental data in India is quite often fudged to meet the needs of the profit-making stakeholders. 

The mindless consumption of natural resources, following by constant encroachment of protected areas and no regard for the impacts of anthropological activity on the ecosystem in the country, the pollution in India rose to unimaginable levels of toxicity. Air pollution levels have increased drastically, water pollution and water quality has worsened over the years, and rapid deforestation to make way for new industries have decimated the forest cover in the state. 

India’s Air Act (1981, March 29)

The Air Act was the first central legislation enforced to tackle air pollution in India. Air pollution was just being recognised as an important issue in the country, and was thus in the spotlight as it was a credible threat to the citizens as well as the environment, and the toxic concentrations of pollutants could be directly attributed toward rapid industrial growth and subsequent activities, as well as from vehicular emissions. Today, pollutants come from varied sources from household emissions, trash burning, industrial activities, to burning of agricultural wastes, construction dust, and biomass burning. Air pollution has become a major threat to citizens in the country, regardless of whether they live in urban or rural areas, with over 99.9% of the population living with pollutant concentrations far above the globally set standards. 

India’s environmental laws, espeically the air act is intertwines with occurrences of international events and conferences. It wasn’t until the Stockholm Conference in 1972 that the state government enforced several of its environmental acts. Every environmental disaaster up until then was dealt with based on their occurrences and the passing of these acts, especially the air act showed that maybe the country had the potential to work towards improving its air quality and air quality governance. The objective under the air act was to preserve the quality of air and control air pollution. Even after forty years of this act, this objective hasn’t changed much or faced much changes in its design or implementation to meet constantly changing needs of the country and its citizens. 

The air act was elemental to developing the framework the country uses today for air pollution control, it states various mechanisms through which authorities vcould monitor pollutant concentrations, progress made on actions enforces, standards for emitters, clean air plans, enforcement schemes, etc. During the enactment of the act, it gave state authorities the power to claim an area of concern as as “air pollution control area” for the specific purposes of the act, so that the state could take focused measures. By 1984, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) set out its nation wide monitoring programme- National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring (NAAQM), aimed at monitoring pollutant concentration. In the year of enforcement, this was only executed in 7 monitoring stations across the cities of Agra and Anpara. Today, the programme has been named to the National Air Monitoring Program (NAMP) and it operates in over 800 stations located across 344 cities in India. 

The air act also provided strict frameworks for industries to get consent for their activites from their respective State Pollution Control Boards (SPCB), thus regulating industrial activities in a much more efficient manner in comparison to previous years. The operations of these industries, now depends on their fulfillment of the prerequisites set out by the SPCB, and consent for activites are granted following an evaluation conducted by the SPCB. Under the air act, the CPCB has developed air quality standards for twelve pollutants and compliance with these standards is mandatory for any relevant polluting actors, including citizens. Some measures taken under the air act include forbidding the bursting of firecrackers, prevention of burning solid waste, implementation os plans such as the Graded Response Plan, etc. 

Even though the act has clearly brought in more stricter forms of regulation and legislation in the country in terms of environmental protection, reality shows us that this is not enough, and that the act needs to be amended continuously to fit the country’s growing needs and demands. There are several downfalls to this act, and some of there are as follows:

  • Relies on criminal prosecution of polluting actors as the enforcement tool. This time-consuming process often leads to low conviction rates and PCB’s lower capacity to pursue such cases making it easier for polluting actors to get away with their activities. 
  • The air act has not been adequately updated, and it lacks addressing several factors when it comes to mitigation strategies such as methods for green financing, or addressing the needs for increase in capacity to engagement in air quality management tasks or actions. 
  • The act does not adequately provide rightful opportunities, training, or resources to the rightful citizens, therefore those who are on the pollution control board are often those who do not have the knowledge or depth of understanding on the matters of air pollution. This also increases corruption rates amongst these actors, as they can be bought off through several means. 
  • The act also needs to be updated to involved new scientific developments and innovations so that the state’s authorities could utilize these new resources to meet their objectives in the best manner possible. 
  • While air pollution transcends administrative and political borders, the central pollution board still does not have adequate control over all state boards, and quite often they operate independent of the central board. 
  • The air act fails to integrate social and human health into considerations for the objective, and therefore provides a restricted view of what air pollution is and why it needs to be addressed. 

A Timeline of Milestones under the Air Act

Source: Mathew S. & Uppal N., 2021

YearMilestone Achieved
1981Enact of the Air Act
1984Launch of the National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring (NAAQM)
1987Amendment to air ActRenaming the ‘Central Board for the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution’ to ‘Central Pollution Control Board’ (CPCB)Provisions are made for pollution control boards to issue directions to any relevant persons under s.31A
1994Launch of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for SO2, NO2, Particulate Matter, Lead, and CO
1998Standards for Ammonia added to NAAQS
2000Launch of national standards for emissions for 31 categories of industries
2009‘National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring’ (NAAQM) is renamed to ‘National Air Monitoring Program’ (NAMP), and is aimed to cover a larger extent of states and cities in India
2011Colour categorisation of industries: Red, Orange, and Green
2014Launch of National Air Quality Index
2016Revised color categorisation of industries: Red, Orange, Green, and WhiteCities that have not met air quality standards are given a set of 42 action points to improve their respective air qualities
2020The deadline to implement the provided city action plans

India Air Quality Index and Interpretation 

Source: CPCB, 2014

AQIInterpretationHealth Impacts
0 – 50GoodMinimal impact
51 – 100SatisfactoryMinor breathing discomfort for sensitive people
101 – 200ModerateBreathing discomfort for people with lungs, asthma, and heart diseases
201 – 300PoorBreathing discomfort to most people on prolonged exposure
301 – 400Very Poor Respiratory illness on prolonged exposure
401 – 500SevereAffects healthy people and seriously impacts those with existing diseases

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): What are some government measures taken in India to address air pollution?

What cities in India have the worst air quality?

Source: IQAir. (2021, December 23)

1Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh499
2Pitampura, Delhi446
3Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh439
4Sector, Uttar Pradesh430
5Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh430
6Nanpara, Uttar Pradesh417
7New Delhi, Delhi417
8Faridabad, Haryana416
9Virar, Maharashtra405
10Bhiwadi, Rajasthan402

Which cities in India has the cleanest air quality?

Source: IQAir. (2021, December 23)

1Medinipur, West Bengal3
2Shillong, Meghalaya12
3Digboi, Assam20
4Durgapur, Maharashtra33
5Ooty, Tamil Nadu35
6Vriddhachalam, Tamil Nadu37
7Ramamangalam, Kerala50
8Kotar, Madhya Pradesh56
9Cuttack, Odisha57
10Kulattur, Tamil Nadu57

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

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Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). (2014). National Air Quality Index. Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change. Viewed on 12-22-2021. 

IQAir. (2021, December 23). Real-time India Cleanest city ranking. Live AQI City Ranking. Viewed on 12-23-2021. 

IQAir. (2021, December 23). Real-time India Most Polluted City Ranking. Live AQI City Ranking. Viewed on 12-23-2021.  

Mathew S. & Uppal N. (2021, April 22). Marking 40 years of India’s Air Act (March 29, 1981). Centre for Policy Research. Viewed on 12-22-2021. 

Shrangi V. & Nandi J. (2019, November 07). British gave India its first anti-pollution law in 1905. Hindustan Times. Viewed on 12-22-2021.  

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