Air quality and public health | Centre for Science and Environment

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Air quality and public health

The rate at which urban air pollution has grown across India is alarming. A vast majority of cities are caught in the toxic web as air quality fails to meet health-based standards. Almost all cities are reeling under severe particulate pollution while newer pollutants like oxides of nitrogen and air toxics have begun to add to the public health challenge. Only a few mega cities where action has started show some improvement in air quality but in most cases the particulate levels are still unacceptably high. But medium and small sized towns and cities are witnessing phenomenal spurt in pollution as severe as or more than any mega city.

Improve air quality monitoring to include more pollutants and more areas in cities to assess the risk of air pollution, make appropriate policies to control it and to create awareness amongst people about hard policy decisions. Ambient air quality standards are constantly evolving to address the emerging health challenges. We hope that the most recent attempt by CPCB to revise the ambient air quality standards will set tighter benchmark for air quality. These standards will set new and tighter targets for air quality improvement in our cities -- one uniform health based standards for all land-use classes; tighter standards for sensitive area; introduction of more short terms standards, among others.

We need to act fast as the gathering evidence worldwide convinces that India requires a leapfrog agenda to address the public health crisis looming large due to rapidly growing air pollution. India needs strong policy interventions to enable research in the field of air pollution. Health-based criteria should become the basis of air quality regulations. Only this can help break business and political resistance to hard mitigation measures to combat air pollution

There aren’t too many comprehensive and systematic epidemiological studies to examine the magnitude of adverse health impacts due to air pollution in India. But evidences are emerging from sporadic studies in a few cities that bear out the public health challenge and the need to integrate the emerging information on air pollution into the policymaking process. The absence of an explicit national policy interlocking health-based criteria with air quality management is largely to be blamed for this lack of initiative. It is extremely important that the government accepts the precautionary principle and integrates health evidences with policymaking.

Anil Agarwal


Anil Kumar Agarwal was the founder-director of the Centre for Science and Environment, India’s leading environmental NGO. Agarwal spent his lifetime advocating policies that involve the people in natural resource management and learn from India’s own traditions.

Sunita Narain


Sunita Narain has been with the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) since 1982. She is currently the director general of the Centre and the treasurer of the Society for Environmental Communications and editor of the fortnightly magazine, Down To Earth.


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About CSE

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) is a public interest research and advocacy organisation based in New Delhi. CSE researches into, lobbies for and communicates the urgency of development that is both sustainable and equitable.

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