This article foregrounds the challenges India is currently facing in bringing the level of air quality to a certain standard. It also discusses solutions that could be adopted to combat the national crisis.
Rising urbanisation, booming industrialisation, and associated anthropogenic activities are the prime reasons that lead to air pollutant emissions and poor air quality. It is expected that by 2030, around 50% of the global population will be residing in urban areas (Gurjar, Butler, Lawrence, et al. 2008). More than 80% of population in urban areas is exposed to emissions that exceed the standards set by World Health Organization (WHO 2016). Air pollution is one of the key global health and environmental concerns (Nagpure, Gurjar, Kumar, et al. 2016) and has been ranked among the top five global risk factors of mortality by the Health Effects Institute (HEI 2019). According to HEI’s report, particulate matter (PM) pollution was considered the third important cause of death in 2017 and this rate was found to be highest in India. Air pollution was considered to cause over 1.1 million premature deaths in 2017 in India (HEI 2019), of which 56% was due to exposure to outdoor PM2.5 concentration and 44% was attributed to household air pollution. As per WHO (2016), one death out of nine in 2012 was attributed to air pollution, of which around three million deaths were solely due to outdoor air pollution.
The rising trends in population growth and the consequent effects on air quality are evident in the Indian scenario. For example, the megacities of Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata combined holds a population exceeding 46 million (Gurjar, Ravindra, and Nagpure 2016). Over the years, there has been a massive-scale expansion in industries, population density, anthropogenic activities, and the increased use of automobiles has degraded the air quality in India (Gurjar and Lelieveld 2005). In the last few decades, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other emissions resulting from anthropogenic activities have increased drastically (Gurjar and Nagpure 2016).
As per WHO (2016) estimates, 10 out of the 20 most populated cities in the world are in India. Based on the concentrations of PM2.5 emissions, India was ranked the fifth most polluted country by WHO (2019), in which 21 among the top 30 polluted cities were in India. The Indian cities, on average, exceeded the WHO threshold by an alarming 500%.
The consistent population growth has led to an excessive strain on the energy consumption, thereby affecting the environment and the air quality of the megacities (Gurjar and Nagpure 2016). Kumar, Khare, Harrison, et al. (2015) calculated the increase in the total energy demand for both mobile and point sources and inferred that in Delhi, the energy demand had grown by 57.16% from 2001 to 230,222 TJ in 2011. A subsequent rise in energy consumption can be expected in the coming years, with no reliable sources available for monitoring the rate of energy consumption.
The continuous degradation of ambient air quality in the urban centres of India demands effective measures to curb air pollution. Though various policy measures are being introduced by the Government of India (GoI) to reduce the vehicular and industrial emissions, the extent to which these measures are implemented is questionable. The lack of infrastructural facilities, inadequacy of financial resources to implement advanced infrastructural innovations, difficulty in relocation of the industries from the urban centres even after mandatory court decisions, and above all, the behavioural patterns among people in accepting the green solutions are some of the crucial impediments on the road to environmental protection that our country seems to be struggling to overcome today.